From Spain's revered Sagrada Familia basilica to Germany and even the Vatican, churches across Europe are taking measures to increase security following several acts of terrorism in recent weeks. Churches and other highly symbolic Christian landmarks have been a prime target for radical Islamist militants, and with the number of vehicle attacks increasing, many churches throughout Europe are taking new measures to ensure their area is protected.
Although so far neither Italy nor the Vatican have been hit by terrorism, Swiss Guard Commander Christoph Graf said last week that “it may only be a matter of time before such an attack occurs in Rome.” He spoke during the Guard's 27th general assembly in Solothurn, Switzerland, which was held Aug. 19-20 and drew the participation of some 450 Swiss Guards and their relatives.
However, according to French news agency La Croix, despite the threat of an imminent attack, “we are prepared,” Graf said, stressing that the Swiss Guards aren't just a photo op for tourists, but are highly trained with the most modern military techniques, and adapt their training to meet current challenges.
In fact, in light of recent attacks, the Guards — charged with watching over the personal safety of the Pope — have increased their initial training from two months to four months. In collaboration with the police of Ticino, an Italian-speaking region in southern Switzerland, they are focusing specifically on marksmanship, fire protection, first aid and maintaining tight security.
Likewise, the Aug. 17 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils prompted police in Germany to take new security measures, especially in areas that see heavy tourism. Cologne has taken especially unique measures to protect its historic Domplatte cathedral against possible terrorist threats. Rather than putting up typical metal barricades in front of the cathedral, a key tourist stop in the city, security has placed barricades made up of large stones weighing several hundred pounds around the perimeter of the church. In order for emergency vehicles and vans to get through, a “mobile barrier” in the form of a police vehicle has also been placed in the area. In comments to RP Online, Cologne police chief said “The (Domplatte) certainly protects its visitors.”
Barcelona’s Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is also holding discussions to see what more can be done to protect the structure, its visitors and those carrying out the construction of the church. Designed by famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, whose cause for beatification is currently open, the basilica has been under construction for more than 100 years and is still unfinished, yet it is one of Barcelona’s most famous and well-loved buildings, each year drawing thousands of visitors from all over the world.
One of the suspects arrested following the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last week said that the ultimate plan had originally involved a much larger attack, which included bombing the Sagrada Familia. CNA spoke with a representative of the basilica, who said that the Sagrada Familia “has a system of security, of prevention, which has been adapted to the characteristics of the church, which has always worked well” for both visitors and employees. “Every day we work with all security forces, not only because of what happened with the attack, but it has always been that way,” she said.
Following the recent attacks, however, extreme caution is being taken, and meetings are being planned with the police to examine “how improvements can be made and what new (security) methods can be implemented.” No details of that plan are being publicly released at this time, but after last week's attack, extra policemen have been deployed to the site, both internal and external surveillance have been increased, and several police personnel are serving “incognito” around the basilica.
“Security measures are extreme,” the basilica representative acknowledged, but “we're going to see what further measures can be taken in order to control anything (that happens)...we'll see what we can do.”