(Vatican Radio) The archdiocese of Rouen in northern France held a special Mass on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the assassination of an elderly parish priest, Fr Jacques Hamel.
The 85-year-old was killed while celebrating Mass on July 26th last year after two gunmen stormed his church in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
Catholics in France are remembering the life and legacy of Fr Hamel, whose throat was slit by the attackers, later identified as Islamist militants. The assailants, who also took parishioners hostage, were shot dead by police.
At the exact time that the attack took place one year ago, the Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun celebrated Mass at the church of Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray. The service was followed by a public commemoration and the unveiling of a memorial stone, with French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe among those paying tribute to the slain priest.
Indelible spiritual heritage
In an interview with Vatican Radio’s Olivier Bonnel, Archbishop Lebrun said that Fr Hamel, whose beatification process is already underway, has left an indelible spiritual heritage for the whole Church and beyond.
The archbishop said that paradoxically, since his death, Fr Jacques Hamel has seemed more alive than ever before. He said while there is still a strong sense of grief and mourning, the priest’s death has also brought together people of very different political opinions.
Transformation of hearts
Archbishop Lebrun said the first fruit of the wound left by Fr Hamel’s death is peace between people, whose hearts are transformed as they perceive that they are united on the same spiritual journey.
On the Sunday following the attack last year, Muslims in many French towns and cities attended Mass to pray and show their support for the grieving family and community of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
Muslims move to root out radicalism
Archbishop Lebrun said Muslim leaders in France and the vast majority of believers declared: ‘this terrorism, this is not Islam’. At the same time they can see that the terrorists are using Islam for their own ends and therefore the attack has marked a turning point in the decisions taken by the Muslim communities to stand up and work harder to root out radicalism.