Montreal, March 22, 2019: A 77-year-old Catholic priest was stabbed during morning Mass on March 22 at St Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada’s biggest church.
Footage from the 8:30 am (6 pm India time) Mass, broadcast on a Catholic television network, showed a man dressed in dark clothing and wearing a white baseball cap walking toward the altar. The man knocked over a candle as he rushed toward Father Claude Grou, striking him at least twice with an object in his right hand.
Father Grou, the rector at St. Joseph’s Oratory, moved away, falling as the man attacked him and knocking over a banner at the right of the altar.
Several other people rushed to the altar, blocking the man from getting close to the priest. The priest then stood up and was helped by people in the church.
“There was a man, a young man, who stood up and, quickly, went to the front, into the sanctuary, behind the altar where Abbé Claude Grou was standing. No one was sure what exactly was happening and I saw the priest move a bit, farther away from this person,” said Philip Barrett, who witnessed the scene.
“He struck him. I didn’t see clearly how he struck him, but it was toward (Grou’s) body, then after that I think the priest fell. Then, suddenly, people reacted and went toward the front of the church.”
Barrett said the suspect did not resist when he was subdued by security guards.
“The assailant was on the ground, calm, and had two men on top of him keeping him there,” said witness Alice Plamondon.
Police spokesperson Caroline Chevrefils said the 26-year-old suspect is known to police. He was being questioned by police.
Oratory spokesperson Céline Barbeau confirmed Father Grou, 77, had been taken to hospital.
“We are reassured because when he left the oratory he was conscious and talking, which for us is a good thing,” she said, adding that the rapid response by security limited the damage done by the attack.
Father Grou has been at the Oratory for more than 20 years, Barbeau said.
While there is 24-hour security at the Oratory, Barbeau said there are no metal detectors in the building. She said the Oratory is safe for people to visit.
“This is a place of openness and a place of prayer so we cannot close a place like that,” she said. “It is an absolutely safe place.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante reacted to the attack on Twitter, saying, “What a horrible and inexcusable gesture that has no place in Montreal. I am relieved to learn that Father Claude Grou … is out of danger and in stable condition. In the name of all Montrealers, I wish him a speedy recovery.”
“Father Grou is very much appreciated by the pilgrims who come to the Oratory,” she said.
The Oratory houses a basilica that can seat 2,000 people, as well as a smaller crypt church with seating for 1,000 people. It is also home to the tomb of Brother André, the Catholic lay brother whose small wooden chapel laid the foundations for the massive basilica.
The Oratory is the largest church in Canada.
Police told AFP that Father Grou was “slightly wounded in the upper body” when, according to witnesses cited by authorities, “the suspect suddenly ran up to the priest and attacked him with a knife” while he was offering Mass.