Suspects in St. Lucia church attack say God told them to do it

Associated Press/January 1, 2001

Castries, St. Lucia -- Two men who attacked worshippers in a cathedral on this small Caribbean island, setting them ablaze and killing an Irish nun, told police they were sent by God to combat corruption in the Roman Catholic Church.

"The way they're talking is that the world is going to end and that the time had come for what they had to do," police Inspector Gregory Montoute, who interrogated the men, said Monday. The suspects -- 20-year-old Kim John, and 34-year-old Francis Phillip -- both identified themselves as Rastafarians, Montoute said.

Police spokesman Albert Fregis said St. Lucia's Rastafarian leaders denounced the Sunday attack at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the port town of Castries. Monsignor Theophilus Joseph, the cathedral's administrator, said John told police "that God asked him to do it because there is so much corruption in the Catholic Church."

The men told police they were "prophets" sent by Haile Selassie, the late Ethiopian emperor worshipped as a God by Rastafarians. Police said they don't believe the men belonged to an organized group. "No one gave any indication that they belonged to a sect with extremist beliefs or violent tenets," Montoute said.

Rastafarianism, followed by perhaps 1 million people worldwide, emerged in Jamaica and spread throughout the Caribbean in the 1930s out of the anger felt by descendants of slaves with the colonial powers' oppression of blacks. It is based on peaceful principles. Adherents are often noted for their belief that marijuana encourages the calm necessary for religious meditation.

Sunday's attack came during Holy Communion while more than 400 people were inside the cathedral. The men burst in carrying machetes and a blowtorch while many worshippers were lined up in the aisles, police and witnesses said. One of the attackers doused people with a flammable liquid, apparently kerosene or gasoline, while another used a blowtorch to ignite the flames, witnesses said.

Police said the attackers hacked at people with the machetes. But Joseph, the monsignor who runs the cathedral, gave a different account, saying the intruders beat people with pieces of wood and used torches to set worshippers afire. The attackers then made their way to the altar, where they set fire to the Rev. Charles Gaillard, injured an altar server and burned the altar.

Gaillard, who suffered burns on his face, was flown to the nearby island of Martinique for treatment, Joseph said. The priest was in critical condition, said Monsignor Patrick Anthony, a church spokesman. At least 12 other people were hospitalized after the attack, police said.

Two parishioners who suffered burns and blows were flown to Barbados for treatment, Joseph said. The slain nun was identified by police as Sister Theresa Egan, 72, of Ireland. She belonged to the Order of St. Joseph of Cluny, an Irish order that has been involved in education programs on the island for nearly 100 years.

Witnesses said she was hacked with a machete, but Joseph said an attacker struck her in the head with a piece of wood while she was giving Communion. Egan had lived on St. Lucia for decades.

After the attack, worshippers grabbed John and held him until police arrived. Phillip was captured Monday morning in the suburb of Pave, where he was found hiding in bushes, police said.

Police said the two men may have been the only people involved in the assault, but some witnesses recalled seeing three or four attackers.

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