During the terror attacks in France last November, nowhere felt safe for those on the streets. 130 people had been brutally murdered as they ate dinner at cafés, drank a pint at the pub or watched their favourite band perform a concert.
As the world Parisians knew unravelled around them, #PorteOuverte (OpenDoor) was born on Twitter; a hashtag used to offer refuge to people with no where else to go at a time of great terror and confusion.
The hashtag reached out again after the ISIS attack at Brussels Airport in March and during the Munich shooting – in the form of #offenetür – just last week.
Yet in the wake of the ruthless killing of Fr Jacques Hamel at a church in Normandy, churches have been urged to “reconsider” their own #OpenDoor policy. They have been advised to review their security by police officials and the Home Office announced a £2.6 million fund to improve security in places of worship. At the same time, religious leaders met with President Hollande in France, calling for better security measures to protect their worshippers.
But the Church has always been a place for sanctuary not security guards.
Can Catholics really be expected to go through metal detectors to attend Mass or have an armed officer stand outside the Confession booth?
Throughout the history of the Church, one thing has always been certain: for people to come in, the doors must be open.
This has always been a part of the mission of the Church, even in its darkest hours. In 1170, St Thomas Becket, knowing full well that he faced assassination, is believed to have refused to let the monks at Canterbury Cathedral lock the doors to the church to protect him. He declared to the monks: “Away, you cowards! A church is not a castle” – before reopening the doors and ultimately facing his own untimely death.
The risks are obvious. In 2015, nine people attending a Bible study paid for their hospitality and open door at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The shooter sat through the prayer service before turning a gun on pastor Clementa Pinckley and those gathered.
Christians run a great risk opening our doors to just anyone. But we surely run an even greater one when we raise our drawbridge and shut the world out altogether. To separate ourselves from the society around us means we can have no impact on its members. We cannot serve our community when we are not willing to be a part of it.
We cannot let fear stop us completing the mission of the Church. No matter what terror we face, we must continue to keep an #OpenDoor to all who are in need.