Thousands worldwide pay tribute to murdered priest
On Monday morning two young men burst into Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray church during mass carrying fake bombs and a handgun and took Father Hamel, three nuns and two churchgoers as hostage. The alarm was raised after one of the nuns escaped but sadly Fr Hamel was killed before police arrived. An 86-year-old worshipper is also in a serious condition in hospital after suffering knife wounds during the hour-long siege.
Sr Danielle, who witnessed the killing first hand, said “They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that’s when the tragedy happened.” She described how as they slit Fr Hamel’s throat one of them, Adel Kermiche, filmed the savage killing on his mobile phone:”They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar in Arabic. It’s a horror.”
The attackers then ran out of the church shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), using the nuns as human shields, before they were shot dead by police. A third person, believed to be a 17-year-old male, remains in custody after his arrest in connection with the attack.
Fr Hamel was a kind and generous man. Born in 1930 in Darnetal, Seine-Maritime, Hamel was ordained in 1958 and celebrated his golden jubilee – 50 years of priesthood – in 2008. He was semi-retired, and was filling in for the regular priest, Father Auguste Moanda-Phuati, at the time of the attack. “He was a man who was always there for others,” said Philippe Maheut, the vicar general who helps oversee the parish. Sr Danielle said “He was an extraordinary priest. He was a wonderful, kind man.” Fr Hamel’s funeral will be held in the Gothic cathedral of nearby Rouen next Tuesday.
Visiting the scene of the atrocity, French President Francois Hollande described it as a “vile terrorist attack” and vowed to fight the IS extremists “using all means possible”. Anti-terror chiefs have been appointed to take charge of the investigation. The President later attended a memorial mass for Fr Jacques Hamel at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, the mayor planned a silent march to honour Father Hamel.
Many people of all faiths worldwide have been paying tribute to Fr Hamel, using social media to express their shock and outrage at the killing of a defenceless, elderly priest in a church. Horrified Christians shared images of Christ online in a show of solidarity and sympathy.
The “I am” hashtag has become the default way of showing solidarity and shortly after the attack many priests were among the first to use #JeSuisPretre – I am Priest. Thousands of Christians worldwide have shown solidarity with #JeSuisChretien – I am Christian – and #JeSuisCatholique – I am Catholic.
Religious leaders, including those from the Muslim community, issued messages of solidarity following the attack. Among them was Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who said: “Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth and love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.”
The president of the Conference of Bishops in France Georges Pontier called on all Catholics in the country to observe a day of national prayers and fasting Friday ‘for our country and for peace in the world’. In a statement he said “We have various sentiments at this time. We know well that the only brotherhood, in our country, is the voice that leads to lasting peace. Let’s build it together.”
Pope Francis, through Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, has sent a message of condolences to Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, France:
“Informed of the hostage-taking in the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, which has caused the death of a priest and in which one of the hostages has been gravely injured, His Holiness Pope Francis assures you of his spiritual closeness and joins in prayer with the suffering of the families and with the pain of the parish and the diocese of Rouen. He implores God, Father of mercy, to welcome Fr. Jacques Hamel in the peace of His light, and comfort the injured person. The Holy Father is particularly troubled to learn that this act of violence took place in a church, during Mass, a liturgical act that implores of God His peace on earth. He asks the Lord to inspire in all thoughts of reconciliation and fraternity in this new trial, and to extend to everyone the abundance of His blessings.”
Imam Mohammed Karabila, the highest ranking Muslim in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray said he is “stunned” by the death of his friend, 84-year-old Jacques Hamel. “I don’t understand, all of our prayers go to his family and the Catholic community.” Mr Karabila, whose mosque stands on grounds donated by the Catholic parish, spoke of his conversations with Father Hamel “We talked about religion and how to live together”. He said the murder of his Catholic counterpart has destroyed the work the two of them did to strengthen interfaith relations. He added “It has been 18 months that civilians have been attacked, now they are attacking religious symbols, using our religion as a pretext. It is no longer possible.”
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, said the attack was a “blasphemous sacrilege which goes against all the teachings of our religion”. The spiritual leader of the Maltese Muslim community said that the recent spate of violent attacks carried out by Muslims in Europe were falsely proclaimed in the name of Islam and have nothing to do with the true teachings of the religion and peaceful Muslims:
“The Muslim community affirms that the terrorists are first and foremost the enemy of Islam and Muslims because they abuse the Muslim faith, tarnish the true image of Islam, destruct the reputation of Muslims all over the world and endanger the Muslim existence everywhere,” Imam Mohammed Elsadi said.