France: Arson at the Armenian Evangelical Church of Alfortville

The Armenian Evangelical Church in Alfortville (Paris region) was the target of an arson attack on the morning of Sunday April 2, pulling Pastor Gilbert Léonian and his wife Léa from bed, staying upstairs and awakened by the light flames starting to reach their bedroom window.

LThe fire caused no casualties, but seriously damaged the facade. Four hours later, the worship was continued: "We don't want to give the enemy the opportunity to fill us with fear" says the pastor. This fire comes a week after other damage, in particular stone throwing which had damaged the windows and the facade of the same church.

This small assembly of 30 people has been there for more than 50 years. Never before had she been the object of particular threats. Member of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches of France, itself a member of the CNEF (National Council of Evangelicals of France), of the FPF (Protestant Federation of France), and of the Armenian World Evangelical Council, this church is neither underground, nor controversial. It is part of the landscape of its municipality alongside a synagogue, a mosque, an Armenian apostolic church, three Catholic churches and three other evangelical churches. These places of worship know each other, respect each other, live peacefully with each other. It does not appear that other acts of this magnitude have ever taken place in Alfortville, neither against the Armenian Evangelical Church, nor against any of the other places of worship. A joint appeasement ceremony was even organized following the attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris and St-Denis.

The pastor recalls:

"But the authorities must realize that what has happened to us is not trivial and can happen elsewhere, we must be vigilant and think about it seriously!" "

Have these calls for love and trust started to trouble some neighbors?It is true that, for two years, the small assembly is more visible in the local landscape: evenings-events are organized there, a biblical stand is held regularly, with distribution of the Gospels in French, Armenian, Turkish, Arabic. A sign with the inscription "Trust, God loves you" in 8 languages ​​had been affixed in front of the place of worship. Have these calls for love and trust started to trouble some neighbors? Should the expression of faith be confined within the walls of the church? Pastor Leonian refuses to do so! The fire was quickly brought under control, but the one that burns in the hearts of the faithful was only rekindled!

Messages of support pour in from all over the worldA few days earlier, the church received Pastor Norek Hovsepian, who came from Baghdad (Iraq) to inform the public of France on the situation of Christians in the turmoil of persecution. He, who knows her closely, was stunned to see the first acts of vandalism on March 27 with his own eyes. The poster announcing the intervention of the pastor of Iraq, produced by Pastor Leonian himself, featured the photo… of a burning building. Messages of support are pouring in from all over the world, especially from places where persecution is raging or raging: Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Syria, ...

Truth, justice, reconciliationThe date of the fire also has a particular resonance in this period when the Easter path opens, and at 3 weeks of the commemorations of the Armenian genocide in which the church will participate as every year. Peacefully but firmly, she acts so that history is not forgotten and that the descendants of the executioners and victims can each see this wound heal in their wounded history. Truth, justice, reconciliation: these are the ingredients of a recipe that aims to bring peace for the future.

This criminal act also occurs three days after the broadcast on the France Ô channel of a cartoonish or even false report on the Evangelicals in France. Did all these circumstances have a catalytic effect? The investigation will attempt to determine this.

One thing is certain: this arson will not weaken the will of Pastor Gilbert Léonian to continue to pursue his action in the city.

“We are more motivated than ever to bear witness to the Gospel, to live Christ and to make him known with our faith, our roots, our values. We need the prayer of brothers and sisters, and to see God's protection. "

Image credit: Armenian Evangelical Church

Pascal Portoukalian

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