[Austen Ivereigh] Pope Francis this morning declared that the elderly French priest murdered at the altar by young men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State was a martyr who had undergone a “satanic” persecution. He also said that Father Jacques Hamel’s picture can be displayed in churches because he is “blessed”.
Fr Hamel, who was 85, died when two men stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen on 26 July. After taking several hostages, the attackers slit Father Hamel’s throat at the altar while reading passages from the Koran. The priest’s last words were: “Get away, Satan!”
Pope Francis today celebrated a special Requiem Mass this morning on the Feast of the Holy Cross that was attended by Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen and Fr Hamel’s sister Roselyne together with 80 pilgrims from the diocese.
Describing Jesus Christ as the “first martyr”, Francis said that today there were more martyred Christians today than in the early Church.
“In this history, we get to our Father Jacques: he is part of this chain of martyrs,” Francis said.
“Christians who today suffer in prison, with death, torture, for not denying Jesus Christ, show precisely the cruelty of this persecution. This cruelty that asks for apostasy is – let’s say the word – satanic.”
He added: “How much I would like all religions to say: to kill in the name of God is satanic.”
Francis described Fr Hamel as “a good, meek man, a man of brotherhood, who always was trying to make peace, who was assassinated like a criminal.”
But in the midst of what was happening to him, the Pope added, “he did not lose the clarity to accuse and identify the name of his murderer. And he clearly said: ‘Go away, Satan!'”
“This man accepted his martyrdom next to the martyrdom of Christ, on the altar,” Francis said. “He was beheaded on the Cross, as he was celebrating the sacrifice of Christ’s cross.”
Celebrating the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the Pope was vested in a red chasuble to symbolize martyrdom. After entering the chapel, he bowed before the altar where a picture of Fr Hamel had been placed.
The photo was brought by Archbishop Lebrun who asked Pope Francis to sign it with a note for three sisters who care for the sick in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray who had been with Fr Hamel at Mass that day.
But rather than sign the photo before Mass, the pope “immediately told me to put it on the altar,” the archbishop later told journalists.
“At the end of Mass, when he was greeting everyone, he signed it and said to me, ‘You can put this photo in the church because he is “blessed” now, and if anyone says you aren’t allowed, tell them the pope gave you permission.'”
To be declared ‘blessed’ is the stage prior to canonization, suggesting that a declaration of Fr Hamel’s sainthood is likely to follow soon.
Fr Hamel’s sister Roselyne said neither her brother nor Pope Francis blamed Islam for the murders.
“God is love,” Roselyn said, adding that the men who “killed my brother did so in the name of a god who is neither the God of Islam nor the God of Christianity.”
“The assassins, I think, acted under the influence of the devil, of Satan,” Archbishop Lebrun said. “When Father Hamel said, “‘Be gone, Satan,’ he had already been stabbed and was on the floor.”
But “his sister immediately gave me a correct interpretation,” the archbishop added, before quoting her as saying, “Father Jacques did not believe these young men were the origin of this evil.”
The archbishop said that since the murder there has been an obvious increase in fear among the people of the region and priests have reported receiving dozens of phone calls asking if it is safe to go to church.
“But there are more people at Mass now,” he said.
“Jesus never said it was stupid to be afraid,” Archbishop Lebrun told reporters. “When he tells his disciples, ‘Do not be afraid’, he is telling them to acknowledge their fear and overcome it with the strength of faith.”
Text of Pope Francis homily
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ. We understand that it is a mystery.
This mystery of annihilation, of closeness to us. Being in the condition of God, Paul says, [Jesus] does not hold on to a privilege of being like God, but emptied Himself, taking on the condition of servant, becoming similar to human beings. He humbled himself, and was obedient unto death, even until death on a Cross.
This is the mystery of Christ. This is a mystery. That is martyrdom for the salvation of men.
Jesus Christ is the first martyr, the first One Who gives his life for us. And from this mystery of Christ, begins the whole history of Christian martyrdom, from the early centuries until today.
The early Christians confessed Christ by paying with their lives. The early Christians who were asked to confess other gods, to say that ‘our god is true and not yours,’ when they refused to do this, were crucified. This story is repeated through today. Today, in the Church, there are more martyrs than martyred Christians in the past.
Today, there are Christians martyred, tortured, slaughtered, because they do not deny Jesus Christ.
In this history, we get to our Father Jacques: he is part of this chain of martyrs. Christians who today suffer in prison, with death, torture, for not denying Jesus Christ, show precisely the cruelty of this persecution. This cruelty that asks for apostasy is – let’s say the word – satanic.
How much I would like that all the confessions would say: to kill in the name of God is satanic.
Father Jacques Hamel was slaughtered on the cross, just as he was celebrating the Sacrifice of Christ. A good, meek man, of brotherhood, who always was trying to make peace, was assassinated, as if he were a criminal. This is the thread of satanic persecution, but there is one thing of this man who has accepted his martyrdom there, that makes me think so much about the martyrdom of Christ on the altar. One thing that makes me think so much …
In the midst of the difficult time that he lived in the midst of this tragedy he saw coming, he did not lose the clarity of accusing and say the name of the assassination. And he clearly said: “Go away, Satan!”
He gave his life to not deny Jesus, gave his life in the same way Jesus [does] on the altar. And from there, he accused the author of persecution: “Go away, Satan!”.
May this example of courage, along with the martyrdom of his life to empty himself to help others, help us to move forward without fear. We must pray, eh! He is a martyr, the martyrs are blessed … We must pray he gives us brotherhood, meekness, peace, and even the courage to tell the truth: to kill in the name of God is satanic.
[Translated from Italian by Deborah Castellano Lubov, Zenit]