By BosNewsLife’s Johan Th. Bos and Stefan J. Bos
OSLO, NORWAY (BosNewsLife)– Norway’s churches called for prayers and opened their doors to those seeking consolation and comfort as officials confirmed Saturday, July 23, that a suspected gunman killed at least 85 people at a youth summer camp after he allegedly set off a bomb blast that claimed the lives of seven people in Oslo, the capital.
“We pray for all those impacted [by the attacks] and for everyone now confronted with fear about what happened to their loved ones,” said Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien of the main (Lutheran) Church of Norway. She added that local churches would receive suggestions for a united prayer, while Sunday services would also focus on the country’s worst violence since World War Two.
“The tragedy reminds us about our vulnerability,” the bishop said in a statement published Saturday, July 23. “That [vulnerability] is faced by all people around the world. But we are not alone, God is with us. He gives hope and consolation.”
Yet, she acknowledged that “the brutal attacks” have changed Norway forever. “Wat has happened at [the island of] Utoya [where scores of youngsters were killed] directly influences our common future. I don’t believe anyone imagined that young people, who gathered for discussions and relaxation, could be shot and killed.”
Police identified the primary suspect in the attack as 32-year-old Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik. He started his shooting spree shortly after detonating a bomb around the prime minister’s office and government building in Oslo, killing at least seven people and turning parts of the complex in twisted metal.
He soon moved on to his next plan, 20 kilometers (35 miles) outside Oslo.
Disguised as a police officer, he beckoned his victims closer before shooting them one by one, claiming at least 85 lives, in a horrific killing spree on an idyllic island teeming with youths that left this peaceful Nordic nation in mourning. “I saw many dead people,” said Elise, whose father, Vidar Myhre, didn’t want her to disclose her last name. “He first shot people on the island. Afterward he started shooting people in the water,” she told The Associated Press news agency.
Elise said she hid behind the same rock that the killer was standing on. “I could hear his breathing from the top of the rock,” she said. Elise said it was impossible to say how many minutes passed while she was waiting for him to stop.
At a hotel in the village of Sundvollen, where survivors of the shooting were taken, 21-year-old Dana Berzingi wore pants stained with blood. He said the fake police officer ordered people to come closer, then pulled weapons and ammunition from a bag and started shooting.
Several victims “had pretended they were dead to survive,” Berzingi said. But after shooting the victims with one gun, the gunman shot them again in the head with a shotgun, he said. “I lost several friends,” added Berzingi, who used the cell phone of one of those friends to call police.
Police said Breivik posted “extreme right-wing and anti-Muslim” comments online before the attack. Officials said police were also investigating whether there might have been a second gunman involved.
As the nation was seeking healing Saturday, July 23, Oslo’s Catholic Bishop Bernt Eidsvig stressed that he was “linked in prayers” with all victims of the shootings and explosions.
Outside Norway, the World Council of Churches (WCC), said it was shocked about the violence. “At such moments the Norway’s people and the government need the solidarity of the international community and the prayers of the Church around the world,” added WCC’s Secretary-General Olav Fykse Tveit, who is himself Norwegian.
In a message to Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and survivors, he said the “attacks against the fundamental institutions of a democratic society and young innocent people discussing political issues with each other shocked me deeply.”
He explained that he was “deeply saddened” about what had happened in his “beloved” native nation. “We have now experienced the reality of so many others around the world where violence disturbs the lives of innocent people.”
Tveit made clear that Christians around the world were praying that Norway, the home of the Nobel Peace Prize, would also in the future remain a state that is “open and filled with love and peace”. He said it is crucial that churches support “a world of justice and peace without revenge, realizing the values of democracy” while caring for “the rights and dignity of every human-being” as “all are made in the image of God.”
Evangelical scholars argue however that attacks, such as in Norway, underscore the daily realities of a broken world and that all evil will eventually disappear only after Christ returns to earth.
The Norwegian bloodshed was also expected to be commemorated Sunday, July 24, by Christians across Europe, including in the Netherlands.
In the Dutch port city of Rotterdam the Norwegian seamen church will “open its doors the coming days to everyone seeking comfort following the events in Norway,” said representative Havard Osland in published remarks.
Thousands of Norwegians live in the Netherlands; one in four are students, according to estimates.