The recently appointed Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has told a memorial service for the victims of Monday’s siege that “hell has touched us”.
During the service on Tuesday at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, the archbishop paid tribute to Tori Johnson, 34, and Katrina Dawson, 38, who died along with Man Haron Monis, the Iranian gunman who took over the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in the Australian city’s central business district.
Mr Johnson was reportedly killed after trying to snatch Monis’s gun. It has also been reported that it was the shooting of Mr Johnson that led to armed police entering the shop and ending the siege.
During his homily the archbishop said: “We are not used to hearing words like ‘siege’, ‘terrorist’, ‘hostages’ and ‘security forces’ associated with our city.”
He continued: “Yet for the past day and night we were subjected to pictures and sounds we tend to associate with alien lands. In a café only two blocks away from St Mary’s Cathedral, only one block away from the Supreme Court, even closer to the New South Wales Parliament, the Reserve Bank and the Channel 7 studio, hostages were pinned for hours against the windows and forced to hold up a flag which blasphemously used the name of God as a threat. The distress was visible on their faces, as was the relief of the first five to escape. We went to bed hoping to wake to good news. But despite patient efforts to maintain calm and negotiate there were, in the early hours of this morning, flashes of gunfire, intervention by our police to save lives, merciful escapes, but finally death. Hell had touched us.”
Speaking to more than 2,000 people at the memorial service, Archbishop Fisher described Tori Johnson as a hero, saying that while his bravery resulted in his own death, his actions led to “freedom for most of the hostages”.
Archbishop Fisher said: “Reports have emerged this morning of the heroism of the male victim of the siege. Apparently seeing an opportunity, Tori grabbed the gun. Tragically it went off killing him, but it triggered the response of the police and eventual freedom for most of the hostages. Reports have also emerged that Katrina Dawson was shielding her pregnant friend from gunfire. These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live, imitating the sacrifice of Christ who said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for each other (Jn 15:13).”
The archbishop reminded his congegation that love was stronger than hatred or violence. He said: “Leaders of all religious, political and ethnic backgrounds are calling for calm, for prayer, for support for each other. Services are being offered for the victims, their families and friends. The darkness need not overcome the light. Indeed, the Christmas-Easter-Christian message is: it cannot! There is something greater than hatred and violence. There is Love, that humble, self-donative Love that comes in the shape of the Christmas Babe, the Prince of Peace. He can soften the hardest hearts. He can convert the most hardened sinner. Come Prince of Peace. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
During the siege a number of the hostages were forced to to hold up a black Islamic banner at the cafe’s window. It has also been reported that during the siege the gunman Monis demanded delivery of an ISIS flag and a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Monis was granted political asylum by Australia in 1996 and was on bail facing a number of charges, including being an accessory to the murder of his former wife. He was also facing more than 40 sexual and indecent assault charges.