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Melbourne priest offers condolences after Nice attack

Canon Ken Letts, who served for 20 years in the Riviera, is one of many Anglicans to respond to the Bastille Day tragedy

By Mark Brolly

July 19 2016A Melbourne priest who for 20 years was Rector of Nice has expressed his condolences to the French Ambassador in Canberra and the Honorary Consul for France in Melbourne after the Bastille Day attacks in the capital of the French Riviera.

The Revd Canon Ken Letts – who was honoured by the French Government last year for his ecumenical work, his service to the English-speaking community and his work among the poor – was Rector of Nice and Vence until 2013, when he returned to Melbourne.

The attack, which killed 84 people, including 10 children and teenagers, and injured dozens of other people celebrating France’s national day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, occurred only a block from Canon Letts’ former home in Nice. It occurred when a man, named as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, drove a truck into the crowds gathered on the seafront.

Canon Letts also served as Dean of the Riviera in the Diocese in Europe (part of the Church of England), a member of the European Synod, co-President of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for France, ecumenical officer for France and official Anglican observer at the French Roman Catholic Bishops Conference.

His condolences were among many from across the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted his reaction, in French and English, on 15 July: “As the French rejoice in their liberty, human evil kills the innocent cruelly. Let us weep with them, let us stand with them #PrayForNice.”

The Union Jack flew at half-mast at Lambeth Palace, Archbishop Justin Welby’s official London residence.

Canon Letts’ successor in Nice, the Revd Peter Jackson, told BBC Radio that the French city was stunned by the attack, but that Nice was resilient and would recover.

Fr Jackson said one of his church wardens saw the truck crush people who had been watching a fireworks display to mark Bastille Day and that witnessing it had been “highly traumatic” for her.

“Other people are just stunned,” he said. “If you go to the site where so many people died, it is extraordinary – almost surreally quiet.

“I have met lots of people, I have been on the phone to them, emailed them... We do have our church open every day from eight o’clock in the morning to six o’clock at night. I go in and out of the church a lot during the day and you encounter people there, people coming to pray and also just to find somewhere quiet, a bit of sanctuary.”

The Anglican Communion News Service reports that Fr Jackson had worked was working in Washington DC at the time of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and in London at the time of two tragic Tube bombings four years later.

The Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese in Europe, Dr David Hamid, wrote on his blog that the Promenade “is just a couple of hundred metres from our Church of the Holy Trinity”.

“Like so many, Father Peter is in shock at these events,” Dr Hamid blogged. “Last night he was enjoying the national festival, and attended a reception with the Mayor and Prefect, a warm family occasion. At the reception, ironically, honour and tribute was being paid to those who work for the emergency services in the city. On return to the presbytery, he learned of the attacks close by. One Churchwarden narrowly escaped injury.

“Father Peter reflected with me on the disconcerting feelings he has, since as a priest he was working in Washington DC at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and was working in London at the time of two tragic Tube bombings.

“There are certain to be many in our community who will be personally affected by this tragedy, and we pray for Father Peter and all who minister and care for the survivors.”

The Promenade des Anglais was built in the 19th Century by the Revd Lewis Way, the Anglican chaplain in Nice, who raised the funds to build it to provide work for unemployed locals.

Bishop Hamid and Bishop Pierre Whalon, of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, part of the US-based Episcopal Church, released prayers in English and French for people to use in the wake of the attack and a Collect for Peace. One of the prayers says:

God of infinite mercy, we pray for the victims of the Nice attack.
Remember them according to the favour you bear for your people.
Comfort those who mourn and give strength to the injured.
Deliver those whose hearts are hardened by hatred.
Grant to us all your understanding, and your persevering love, for your mercy’s sake. 

*Hear Fr Peter Jackson on the BBC Radio 4 program, Recovering from the Nice attack, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p041nhdl

Canon Letts will preach at a special evensong on Thursday 21 July at 5.10pm at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne to remember those who perished in recent attacks in Nice, Ankara and Istanbul, and to pray for peace in the world. Find more details here.