Everything on earth seemed to stand still for a few brief hours last Thursday as reports of the terror attack in Nice during Bastille Day began to surface. Of the 84 people murdered that night, 10 were children -- 10 innocent little victims whose lives were only just beginning.
ISIS has now claimed responsibility.
The collective American spirit reels at the idea of children dying violently and it remains hard to process. The grief over children ripped away from their loved ones erases color, nationality, political party. We understand this as true evil.
"Sorrow makes us all children again -- destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing," Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote.
"These terrorists are barbaric, and they don't care about anybody," Fr. Stephen Rock, pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Reading, Massachusetts, told LifeZette. "The more death they can cause the better -- if they hurt kids, they don't care."
There is a caveat, however -- as this religious leader and others of faith made clear.
"People of faith have got to trust in God," he said. "That doesn't mean we don't defend ourselves, but individually we need to have faith in just how much God loves us -- especially children. One of the sad things about any attack of this nature is that young children are always the most vulnerable. They can't hide or fight back -- they don't have those skills."
"People in your own networks who have lost children can be very triggered by attacks like this involving children," said one pastor. "It's time to reach out -- it is something we can do in our helplessness."
Rock served in the Navy Chaplain Corps for 20 years and has seen large swaths of the world in his travels. "I've been to Beirut, Lebanon, and I've been instructed to stay away from other people in crowds because of body bombs, which were prevalent in the 1980s," he said. "I understand fear when war or terrorism seems to be overtaking every corner of the world. But we can give in to this and cower -- or we can step outside our doors in faith and embrace the world."
"It's easy to have faith when times are good," said Rabbi Ahron Benmergui of the New Ashkenazi Minyan, an Orthodox congregation in Brighton, Massachusetts. "The challenge is to have faith when events like these unfold. We have to remember the times that G-d pulled us through difficult situations -- a child who was ill, trouble at work. If G-d helped us then, He will help us now."
Even as we grieve the innocent murdered children, there is still important work to be done in our communities, noted Robert Zucker, a Wellesley, Massachusetts, grief counselor and author of "The Journey through Grief and Loss."
"It might be very helpful to be tuned into how people in your own networks who have lost children can be very triggered by attacks like this involving children," he told LifeZette. "Their grief may re-emerge, or may intensify. It's time to reach out -- it is something we can do in our helplessness."
Zucker also said children must be guarded from exposure to graphic or disturbing images, especially in this age of cellphone photos and videos.
"Kids can now witness terrible things," said Zucker. "Our children need to be sheltered from over-exposure to violence [and terror]. We know we can pray for the families that lost their lives, and we can also reach out to the vulnerable, including those in our own homes who are living in a heightened state of fear. Their world can feel very unsafe."
Rock recalled the spirits of the martyrs of the Christian faith in examining layers of grief.
"There is a church in Rome called St. Stephano Rotundo -- not too far from the Roman Coliseum," he said. "On the walls are al fresco paintings of the Roman martyrs, portraying people who were butchered for their faith. What struck me about the way the Renaissance artists portrayed those who suffered greatly was the serenity in their faces. They weren't cowering -- because they were walking with God. When we think about the essential nature of God, we know again where we're going."
"Terror is reality, but I don't let it freeze me or frighten me."
Zucker shared specific advice for parents about good over evil.
"There's a lot of goodness and kindness in the world, even though there is there is this horrible stuff, too. Remind your children of this, and remind yourself, too. We don't have to stick our heads in the sand, but we do need balance. We must consider the goodness still alive in the world."
Fr. Rock recalled a recent example of faith amid violent death. "Most of the saints who were killed had a sense of peace, and if you remember the 21 Coptic Christians murdered by the sea in Libya, they didn't cry out. They were very peaceful at the moment of their death," he said. "What their last words were, as someone who read their lips was able to share, was, 'Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.' That depth of faith -- I think sometimes the West doesn't have as we should. Terror is reality, but I don't let it freeze me or frighten me."
A stronger sense of purpose should now envelop our leaders and accompany our own personal gratitude. "We must always take sides," said Elie Wiesel, the recently deceased Holocaust survivor and distinguished author who won the Nobel Peace Prize. "Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."