The priest who was stabbed Friday at Montreal’s famed Saint Joseph’s Oratory has been released from hospital with minor injuries and said he’s feeling “fine.”
Speaking with a CTV Montreal reporter, Father Claude Grou said he did not know the man who walked to the front of the church and attacked him during morning mass.
Regardless, the incident won’t stop him from returning to the pulpit, Grou said.
“I’m not afraid to go back to work,” he told CTV Montreal. “The oratory will remain a place where people can be welcomed in a place of prayer and a place of calm and a place of peace, even if there are some moments like that.”
Montreal police say a 26-year-old suspect has been arrested. He was taken to the station for questioning.
Police said the man is known to police, CTV Montreal’s Rob Lurie reported.
Investigators said a call came in about a stabbing at the church at approximately 8:40 a.m. on Friday morning when the priest was in the process of celebrating mass before approximately 60 worshippers.
The mass was being livestreamed by the Catholic television network Sel+Lumiere TV, which airs the religious ceremony daily, when the stabbing occurred. The footage was quickly removed from the website following the attack.
In the video, a man wearing a dark winter coat and a light-coloured baseball cap pulled out a large knife and walked in front of the altar. The footage shows the suspect run up the steps towards the priest.
Grou attempted to run away as the attacker knocked over a candle. The video shows the man quickly catch up to the priest and push him to the ground before he appears to stab him.
Following the stabbing, the suspect dropped the knife and stood up as members of the congregation ran towards him. Three men restrained the attacker while other people went to help Grou who appeared to stand up on his own.
Lurie reported that the assailant slashed Grou in his stomach and the knife broke during the attack.
Speaking Friday night, Grou thanked everyone who expressed concern for his health. He said he plans to return to work, after a short rest.
“There are so many people who helped me to pass through this moment, and now, my health is fine,” he said.
Adele Plamondon was attending mass that morning and told CTV Montreal that she saw the attacker walk towards the altar.
“I thought he was going to kneel to say a prayer in front of the Saint Joseph’s statue, but he quickly came up the stairs taking a big knife out of his side and I realized what his intentions were so I ran out of the church screaming to alert the security,” she recalled.
Witness Philip Barrett told The Canadian Press that he was sitting near the front of the church when he saw the suspect rise from a pew and approach the sanctuary during the mass.
“I do remember the priest was moving away from the man but it happened so quickly there was almost no time to react,” he recalled.
Barrett said the suspect didn’t speak or call out during the attack and he didn’t struggle once he was subdued.
The church’s security agents detained the man until police arrived. The suspect was arrested and taken to the station for questioning.
Paramedics treated the priest for minor injuries to his upper body at the scene. Plamondon said she spoke to Grou shortly after he was stabbed.
“I said Saint Joseph’s angels have protected you,” she said.
CTV News’ Vanessa Lee said onlookers told her that Grou was sitting up and talking before he was transported to hospital for further treatment.
In a tweet, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Montreal said the priest’s condition was “stable.”
Church staff told Lee they’re hopeful he will make a full recovery. Now 77 years old, Grou has been at Saint Joseph’s Oratory for more than 20 years, Lee reported.
“Everybody working here at the oratory and most of our pilgrims are shocked and very, very sad. As we speak, there’s mass going on in the basilica of the oratory and I’m sure everybody’s praying for him,” the oratory’s spokesperson Celine Barbeau said.
The spokesperson said they have no idea why this attack occurred.
“There’s so many reasons why this may have happened. We do not know why,” she said. “I don’t think it was directed directly to the man [Grou], but who can say?”
Despite the stabbing, Lee said the oratory will not be closed to the public on Friday. She said the lower church, where the attack occurred, remains closed for the police investigation.
According to its website, Saint Joseph’s Oratory is the largest shrine dedicated to Saint Joseph in the world and receives approximately two million visitors from around the world each year.
Lee said the officials at the oratory said they have a security team at the church at all times and reassured the public that it’s safe to visit.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the attack as “horrible” in a tweet he shared Friday.
“What a horrible attack at Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal this morning. Father Claude Grou, Canadians are thinking of you and wishing you a swift recovery,” he said.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, too, expressed her reaction to the incident on Twitter.
“What a horrible and inexcusable gesture that has no place in Montreal. I am relieved to learn that the life of Father Claude Grou, Rector of the @osjmr, is out of danger and that his condition is stable. On behalf of all Montrealers, I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Liberal MP Rachel Bendayan, who represents the riding of Outremont, Que. where the church is located, said she was shocked by the news.
“My team is at the church offering all our support. Am on my way back to Outremont to be with you,” she tweeted.
With files from The Canadian Press