Father Jacques Hamel, the French priest whose throat was slit by two Islamic State militants in his church last July, is now on the road to being officially declared a Christian saint.
The Catholic archdiocese of Rouen formally opened the beatification process on Holy Thursday, in recognition of the sacrifice of the 85-year-old priest who was executed in odium fidei (out of hatred for the faith) while celebrating Mass last July 26.
The two 19-year-old Islamic State radicals, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, burst into Father Hamel’s church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray around 9:45am and seized the priest, along with 5 other members of the congregation.
Just before having his throat slit, Father Hamel told one of his assailants, “Be gone, Satan!”, according to the priest’s archbishop, Dominique Lebrun.
“Evil is a mystery that reaches summits of horror beyond what is human,” the Archbishop said. “Is that not what you meant, Jacques, by your last words? Falling to the ground after the first stab, you try to push away your attacker with your feet saying, ‘Be gone, Satan!’”
Soon after the attack, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, a theologian and member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the priest had undergone “the characteristic death of a martyr, as one who dies for his or her faith, and because of that faith.”
We cannot ignore the fact that this was “a targeted attack on our Christian faith,” Fisher said. “The two terrorists meant to go into a Catholic church. They meant to kill a priest of Jesus Christ. They meant to take nuns and faithful laity as hostages. They were not just looking for any old building with any old people inside.”
“And the terrorists underlined the meaning of their act by engaging in a ritual sacrifice of the priest before the altar and a mock homily. So their act was not just murder but also sacrilege, desecration, blasphemy,” he said.
“Their motive not just revenge for the policies of the secular French government, but hatred for the Church and its priests and religious and faithful, even when they are demonstrably friends of Muslims, as Fr Jacques was,” he added.
Last fall, Pope Francis decided to shorten the time before the opening the beatification process, which is usually set at five years.
“If it comes out positively, the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel will then be officially recognized according to the criterion of the Catholic Church,” said the Rouen diocese in a communiqué, “for having suffered death for his faith in Jesus Christ.”
Beatification is the first step to canonization or sainthood. Recognition of sainthood usually requires the proof of miracles worked by the saint’s intercession, but in the case of a “martyr,” the requirement of miracles is waived.
Pope Francis himself declared the slain French priest to be a Christian “martyr” last September, a qualification that automatically makes the person a saint in the Church’s eyes.
Without formally canonizing Hamel, the Pope said that the French priest is in heaven, noting that “all martyrs are blessed (beati),” a technical term the Catholic Church uses for those who have been “beatified” or declared to be in heaven.
“You can put this photo in the church, because he is blessed now, and if someone tells you that you do not have the right, tell them that the Pope gave you permission,” Francis told the archbishop of Rouen, referring to a photo of the deceased priest that the Pope had signed.
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