The funeral yesterday of Fr Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old priest slain last week while saying Mass in his Normandy church, was attended by close to 2,000 in Rouen cathedral yesterday, among them around 100 Muslims.
Hanging in the entrance was a painting of Fr Jacques with a halo, presented to the cathedral by a Muslim believer.
The Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, thanked Catholics attending the service but also“believers of other religious faiths, in particular the Jewish community and the Muslim community, who have been deeply moved and already determined to unite to say: ‘Never again.’”
In a powerful homily, he dwelt on the mystery of the evil and the power of God’s love, issuing an appeal to “you who are tormented by diabolical violence, you who are pushed to kill by satanic murderous madness, allow your heart, which God made for love, to get the upper hand.”
He asked: “Can the world still wait for the chain of love which will replace the chain of hate? Will we need other massacres to convert us to love and to the justice that builds love?”
The archbishop’s homily followed testimonies by Fr Jacques’s relatives, among them his sister Roselyne who recalled how during his military service in Algeria he resisted any attempt to promote so he would never have to order his men to kill.
“In one shoot-out at an oasis, he was the sole survivor, and always wondered why,” recalled the sister, adding: “Today, Jacques, you have your answer: the God of love and mercy chose you to be at the service of others … right up to your last breath.”
Text follows of the homily given by Monsignor Lebrun:
“God is impartial, says the apostle Peter: He welcomes, whatever the nation, he who fears him and whose works are just.”
The priest Jacques Hamel no longer needs to fear God. He has presented himself before Him with his just works. Of course, we are not to judge the heart of our brother. But so many accounts can’t be wrong! Fr Jacques Hamel had a simple heart. He was the same person in his family, with his brothers and sisters, with his nephews and nieces, in the town with his neighbours, in his Christian community with his parishioners.
Fifty-eight years of priesthood! Fifty-eight years in the service of Jesus, that’s to say a servant of his Word, of his Eucharist, of his charity. I feel small in comparison. St Peter says of Jesus: ‘Wherever he passed by, he did good.’ Jacques, you have been a faithful disciple of Jesus. Where you passed by, you did good.
Last Easter, Jacques, you wrote for your parishioners : ‘Christ is risen. It’s a mystery, like a secret, a secret that God shares with us.’ Perhaps this mystery, this secret, this confidence around the risen Christ is rooted in his experience of death in Algeria, which his family reminded us of. Maybe this mystery, this secret, is reaching hearts in this congregation: yes, Christ is risen. Death doesn’t have the last word.
For you, Jacques, Jesus’s resurrection wasn’t just a lesson from the catechism, it was a reality, a reality for our hearts, for the secrets of our hearts, a reality at the same time to share with others — like a confidence. And God knows that, as we face the reality of your brutal, unjust and horrible death, we need to dig deep into our hearts to find the light.
Brothers and sisters, let’s be straightforward and truthful with ourselves. It’s in our hearts, in the secret of our hearts that we need to say: ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Jesus, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to his path of truth and peace; ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the victory of love over hate, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to his Resurrection.
Jacques Hamel’s death summons me to a straightforward yes, not or neither a half-hearted yes. A ‘yes’ to life, like Jacques’s ‘yes’ at his ordination. Is it possible? It’s up to each one of us to reply. God doesn’t force us; God is patient; God is merciful. Even when I, Dominic, have said no to love, even when I’ve said to God, ‘I’ll see about that later’, even when I’ve forgotten him, God still waits for me in his infinite mercy. But today, can the world still wait for the chain of love which will replace the chain of hate?
Will we need other massacres to convert us to love and to the justice that builds love? Justice and love between people and nations, whichever side of the Mediterranean they find themselves. Too many deaths in the Middle East, too many deaths in Africa, too many deaths in America! Too many violent deaths — it’s enough!
Evil is a mystery. It reaches heights of horror which make us leave what is human behind. Isn’t that what you meant, Jacques, by your last words? Having fallen to the ground with the first knife wounds, you tried to push your attacker away with your feet saying, ‘Get away Satan!’ You said it again: ‘Get away Satan!’ You were expressing your faith in man created good, that the Devil has got hold of. “Jesus healed all those who were under the Devil’s power” says the Gospel.
This is not about excusing the murderers, those who make a pact with the devil, it’s about affirming that with Jesus, every man and woman, every human being can have a change of heart through his grace. So we receive Jesus’s word which might seem beyond our strength today: ‘But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’
You who are tormented by diabolical violence, you who are pushed to kill by satanic murderous madness, allow your heart, which God made for love, to get the upper hand; let us remember our mothers who gave us life; let us pray to God to free you from the Devil’s clutches. We pray for you and we pray to Jesus, “who cured those who were under the power of evil.”
Roselyne, Chantal, Gerald and your families: the path is hard. Allow me to express my and many other anonymous people’s admiration for your dignity. Your brother, your uncle, was a support. He continues to be so. It is not for me to declare Fr Jacques ‘a martyr’. But how can we not recognize the fertility of the sacrifice he lived through, in union with Jesus’s sacrifice, which he was faithfully celebrating in the Eucharist?
The numerous words and gestures of our Muslim friends, their visit here today are an important step forward.
I’m also turning to you, the Catholic community. We are wounded, shocked but not destroyed. I turn towards all those baptized into the Catholic faith, especially if you don’t come to church often, or if you have forgotten the way. With Archbishop Georges Pontier, president of the Conference of French Bishops, I make a simple appeal to you, as a first step, as simple as Father Jacques Hamel’s life:
In homage to father Hamel, we invite you to visit a church in the days to come, to express your refusal to see a holy place defiled, to affirm that violence will not take your heart over, to ask for God’s grace. We invite you to light a candle in that church, sign of the resurrection, to gather your thoughts, to open your heart to its deepest; if you can to pray, to get down on your knees. The 15th of August would be a good day to do that. The Virgin Mary will welcome you tenderly. Remember our mother.
O God, do not remain unmoved by the distress of your children who turn to you!
O God, continue in our hearts what your son Jesus began!
O God, we thank you for your son Jacques: console his family and raise up amongst us, in the youth of WYD, new prophets of your love. Amen.
[Original French is here. Catholic Voices translation by Kathleen Griffin.]