On the third anniversary of the murder of French Father Jacques Hamel by Islamist terrorists, some local clergy and politicians are striving to promote his legacy of dialogue and peace.
“It’s right for our spirit to rebel against the homicide of a priest in his church, against all forms of violence,” said Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen during his homily on Friday at the church where Hamel was killed.
“We must fight for peace,” he added. “Father Jacques Hamel gave his life for this.”
On July 26, 2016, the 86-year-old Hamel was held hostage in the Church of St. Stephen in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, by two Muslim extremists: Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean. After 40 minutes, the terrorists, who later pledged their allegiance to ISIS, slit Hamel’s throat.
Before being killed, having been forced to kneel down, Hamel famously said: “Begone, Satan!” The phrase sent shockwaves across France and Europe and even led Pope Francis to waive the five-year waiting period necessary for beginning the sainthood process of the French priest.
Moved by the brutal murder, Francis insisted that Hamel “is a martyr, and martyrs are beatified,” while celebrating Mass in his honor in 2016.
The breviary of the murdered priest is kept as a relic in the Vatican.
To honor the anniversary of his death, various activities and celebrations took place in the heart of the small, peripheral town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray. A rosary vigil was held in the church where Hamel was murdered, and a mediation was led by Father Frederic Masset, the parish priest of a nearby church.
The evening was accompanied by the testimony of Alain Quibel, who was present during the attack.
On the anniversary itself, a silent march went through the streets of the town, leading to the local church where Lebrun celebrated Mass in remembrance of Hamel. In front of the church is a metal disk that was dedicated in 2017 as a lasting tribute to the martyred priest’s message of peace and fraternity.
“Living together, as my brother used to say, is to live with the other, it’s the dedication to overcoming hatred,” said Roseline Hamel, sister to the slain priest, at a gathering organized by the Commune of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray on Jul6 26.
The town’s mayor, Joachim Moyse, echoed those sentiments, stating that “Jacques Hamel promoted a discourse of peace and fraternity, and it’s up to us Republicans to apply the conditions of this peace and fraternity.”
The Republicans in France are a center-right, conservative political party that holds the second largest number of seats in the National Assembly.
Moyse wasn’t the only politician to attempt to harness the widespread appeal of the brave French priest.
In 2017, Emmanuel Macron, who had recently been elected president, made a point of showing up to that year’s commemoration, and referred to Hamel as a “martyr.”
He also took the opportunity to lay out his political program regarding religion, stating that “in these troubled times, where so many of our brothers suffer from terrorism and from persecution,” the state must guarantee religious freedom for believers and non-believers alike and protect places of worship.
The populist and anti-immigration French politician Marine le Pen also chimed in via Twitter on July 26, stating that “3 years ago, Father Jacques Hamel was executed by the Islamist barbarians in the heart of his Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray. No Frenchman can forget the horrible assassination of this priest. The fight against Islamist gangrene must remain a top priority!”
While politicians continue their tug-of-war with Hamel, the Vatican inches closer to his beatification, the first step toward becoming a saint.
For martyrs, the usual miracle is not required for beatification, although one is needed for canonization.
In March, the postulator Lebrun presented files containing 66 transcripts of conversations with people who knew Hamel, including five who were present when he was killed, to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
It is now up to the congregation led by Italian Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, and ultimately the pope, to recognize Hamel as blessed.
“We are working on schedule, we are waiting now. Probably in September or October we will receive the conformity decree by the congregation, which is a confirmation that everything is in order and there are no missing elements in the file,” said Father Paul Vigouroux, the vice postulator for Hamel’s beatification cause, in a July 25 interview with Aleteia.
Apart from the formal proceeding, devotion for the French priest has already started in the church of Saint-Étienne di Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, which for the past three years has become a popular site for pilgrims wishing to pay homage to Hamel on the day of his death.
“The church has become an implicit pilgrimage site,” said Father Hubert Ngoma, who is in charge of welcoming visitors at the church. “From this crime, many people - priests, believers, but also lay people of all nationalities - come to this commune.”
The commemoration of Hamel’s death finished with a final prayer in the afternoon before the tomb of the priest and vespers.