Catholic priest, Fr. Elton Letang, has described as a “traumatic experience” an incident which occurred in a church in St. Lucia where he now serves as Assistant Parish Priest.
During the Good Shepherd morning mass on Sunday, May 8, 2022 – Mother’s Day – a man attacked the Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in the St. Lucian town of Vieux Fort, throwing two cocktail bombs inside the building.
Fr. Letang, from Giraudel in Dominica, is new to the parish having begun his mission in St. Lucia on February 6th 2022. He said the incident occurred at 10am, one hour after mass began.
“Right during the collection time, about 10:00 and sitting on the chair and watching what’s happening, you know people looking in their bags and during that time, the gentleman, he ran up the center aisle with two cocktail bombs,” he said in an interview with Dominica News Online (DNO).
Fr. Letang said for the first five seconds he thought it was a Mother’s Day presentation or the offertory procession.
“My whole thinking of that changed when he actually stepped into the sanctuary and then he pelted the bombs at the statue of the Blessed Mother right at the choir area,” the priest stated.
He said the explosions were followed by “thick black smoke” which frightened the congregation and people started screaming, running out of the church and in some cases, crying.
“Some persons came up and they were talking to the gentleman to keep him composed and during that time, someone said that the police are coming. [When] the police arrived, they placed the cuffs on him and took him away,” Fr. Letang recounted.
He said by the time the fire truck arrived, the flames had already been extinguished with the use of a fire hydrant after which he asked the congregation to come back inside to continue the mass.
“Slowly, they came back in and then mass continued. I actually preached about leadership on Good Shepherd Sunday. I had to remain composed and be strong. In fact, two women came up to me and said that, it is because of my strength they developed the strength to remain seated,” Fr. Letang recalled.
The clergyman said it is not the first time that the same individual has attacked a church in the area.
“For the previous incident, it was the same man at a chapel in the parish (different location). He tried to burn a crucifix on the outside and when unsuccessful, he ran into the church with two cocktail bombs,” Fr. Letang stated.
Fr. Letang explained that fortunately, the cocktails went out before the man could reach the altar and his efforts to relight the cocktails by using the candles on altar were thwarted as “the candles were blown out before he could.”
“He is a sick individual. No normal person can do such a thing. People are saying it’s because he is a Rasta. No, Rastafarianism is not about that; [it] is a very humble, respectful way of life,” Fr. Letang maintains.
The priest is hoping that the perpetrator will remain in jail for a longer period of time for this attack than he did the first time and recommends a re-evaluation of the justice system in an effort to prevent such occurrences.
He believes that the church also needs to protect itself by recruiting additional security for its followers.
“It was a traumatic experience. I had a headache for the entire day yesterday, and I’m sure many individuals would have felt the same way. I’m sure the next Mass on Sunday, they will be very alert,” Fr. Letang said.
He wants this matter to be discussed at the next parish meeting with a view to arriving at a decision to ensure that such incident does not happen again.
Meantime, the Archdiocese of Castries has issued a statement in which it “condemns with the rest of the country, the outrageous and unprovoked assault on the Catholics of the Parish of the Assumption, Vieux-Fort, who for a second time, have had their constitutional right to worship violated and their sacred space of worship desecrated.”
“The Archdiocese is mindful of the history of such assaults on the Catholic community in the past. These include the murder of Sr. Francis Theresa Keenan SJC during Mother’s Day Mass in Grace, on May 8, 1977; the kidnapping of Bishop Lester Guilly SJ in Castries in December 1980; the brutal murder of Sr. Theresa Egan SJC during the Cathedral attack on December 31, 2000, which also resulted in severe burns to Mr. Victor Reyes and Mr. Mark Beaubrun, and the death of Fr. Charles Gaillard in April 2001; and the attempt on the life of Kelvin Cardinal Felix, then Archbishop of Castries, after the Chrism Mass in 2006,” the release states.
“This catalogue of atrocities suggests a targeted pattern of aggression which is unacceptable in a democratic and Christian society,” the recently-installed Arch Bishop Gabriel Malzaire states in the release. “I call upon government, civil society, religious groups and men and women of good will to stand resolutely and condemn all forms of bigotry, hatred, discrimination and intolerance, both in words and actions, that manifest themselves in Saint Lucian society.”
The release reports the Catholic Church as saying that it is aware that “some of the perpetrators of these heinous acts were allegedly persons of questionable mental health” and is therefore taking this opportunity during “Mental Health Week” (May 9 – 15, 2022), “to support the call for greater awareness, education, information on mental health in our society and the provision of better care and facilities for the mentally challenged.”