Rev. Claude Grou, rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, was stabbed during a Mass March 22. The motive for the attack remains unknown.
He was taken to the hospital and was in stable condition, said in a statement from the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal. Reports say a 26-year-old man has been arrested.
The incident comes on the heels of an assault on a Edmonton priest a week earlier at Our Lady Queen of Poland church. The pastor, Rev. Marcin Mironiuk, was not injured. Police are searching for a suspect.
The stabbing in Montreal occurred during the 8:30 a.m. Mass in the crypt. A tall, light-skinned man wearing a white hat walked toward Father Grou and stabbed him in the stomach.
“At the end of the psalm, just before the … Gospel, there is this guy who comes from who-knows-where — I only film the front of the crypt — and who moves rather quickly,” said Dinh Khoi Vu, who directed the morning Mass at the Oratory for Salt and Light Television.
“Father Grou saw him coming with his knife. He had the reaction to move to the side, but he was still touched,” he added. “The knife fell. The aggressor was no longer able to pick it up. Many faithful rushed to hold him back. ”
Father Grou got up, and members of the security service managed to control the attacker.
Fifty people were gathered in the crypt of St. Joseph’s Oratory.
“Father Grou left the oratory, sitting in a wheelchair,” to the applause of some people, relieved to see that he was still conscious, explained Vu.
Father Grou left the oratory in an ambulance.
“He was sitting. He was conscious”, said Celine Barbeau, spokeswoman for the oratory.
Police closed the crypt and questioned witnesses.
Father Grou, 77, is a native of St. Laurent, Que. He joined the Holy Cross Congregation in 1966 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1968. He was elected as the congregation’s superior general in 1986, an office he held until 1998. Since leaving that post, he has been working at St. Joseph’s Oratory, Canada’s largest church founded by St. Andre Bessette.
“We are all shocked by this act of violence that has taken place in our city, in a space dedicated to peace,” Montreal Archbishop Christian Lepine said in a statement. “We know that places of worship of many religions are targets of acts of violence. We must continue to follow the path of peace and love, believing that good will overcome evil through prayer and good works.”
Archbishop Lepine thanked the first responders to the scene, “especially those who courageously protected Father Grou.”
He also encouraged everyone to “remain calm” and “continue celebrating their faith as a community.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his reaction to the assault: “What a horrible attack at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal this morning. Father Claude Grou, Canadians are thinking of you and wishing you a swift recovery.”
In Edmonton, Father Mironiuk had just finished celebrating Mass at Our Lady Queen of Poland church on March 13 when he was approached by a young man he didn’t recognize.
After the evening Mass, attended mostly by elderly women, Edmonton Police say the man threw the priest to the ground and began choking him to the point where he couldn’t breathe.
Police spokesperson Patrycja Mokrzan said the women began beating the suspect with their canes and he eventually released Father Mironiuk. The suspect then fled.
Father Mironiuk self-reported the incident to the EPS Downtown Division headquarters on March 15. Witnesses also came forward.
The suspect is described as five-foot-nine inches tall, about 25-years-old with short dark hair. He was wearing a red T-shirt and black jacket. Witnesses told police he smelled of alcohol.
Police say the man was not known to Father Mironiuk or anyone in the parish. Father Mironiuk declined comment March 22.
The Archdiocese of Edmonton said incidents like this are worrying, but people should feel safe in their places of worship.
Within the Archdiocese, alarms and external cameras are in increasing use and ushers are trained to be aware of strange or unusual behaviour as a form of emergency prevention.
As well, training efforts like the city of Edmonton’s Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design have been used in places like the Archdiocese of Edmonton to determine security risks and ways to make the building a safer place.
In the Edmonton Archdiocese, there are 61 parishes with resident priests in cities, towns, rural areas and indigenous communities, and another 64 parishes and missions without resident priests.
Protocols for emergency response and prevention are in place, but that protocol is largely dependent on the circumstances of each parish.
Locally, in May 2014, Rev. Gilbert Dasna was shot and killed in the rectory of the cathedral in St. Paul, Alberta. In August 1976, a caretaker for the former St. Patrick’s Church in Edmonton – Leo Bilodeau – was shot dead by thieves attempting to rob the rectory.