French Priest Slain by Jihadists Moves Towards Sainthood

Jacques Hamel beatification
BNN
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

The cause for beatification of Father Jacques Hamel, the French priest whose throat was slit by jihadists in 2016, took an important step forward Wednesday as the Vatican received a massive dossier on his case from the archdiocese of Rouen, France.

Rouen’s archbishop Dominique Lebrun came to the Vatican to deliver the dossier personally to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Causes of Saints, together with a delegation of some 40 young people from the archdiocese.

On the morning of July 26, 2016, two 19-year-old Islamic State radicals, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, burst into Father Hamel’s church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray shouting “Allahu Akbar!” They seized the priest who was celebrating Mass, along with 5 other members of the congregation.

Just before having his throat slit, Father Hamel told one of his assailants, “Be gone, Satan!”

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the head of the department that oversees sainthood, greeted Lebrun and his delegation Wednesday, and received the six heavy boxes filled with papers on Hamel, fruit of a two-year investigation into the details of the priest’s life, final hours, and death.

Hamel’s case is a “priority” for Pope Francis, the cardinal said, and will get special attention among the 1,500 causes currently under review. The sainthood cause was officially opened at the diocesan level in April 2017, after Pope Francis waived the mandatory five-year waiting period.

The pope himself declared the murdered French priest to be a Christian “martyr” in September 2016, which — if confirmed — would automatically make the person a saint in the Church’s eyes.

While not formally canonizing Hamel, the pope said then 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 with God 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 Francis had signed.

Not long after the attack, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, a theologian and member of the Vatican’s 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.”

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