France’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex has marked the fourth anniversary of the murder of Father Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by jihadists in 2016 as he celebrated Mass in his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
“Four years ago to the day, a priest was assassinated at the foot of his altar,” wrote Mr. Castex on Twitter Sunday morning. “Struck in her heart, France then discovered Jacques Hamel, his face and his message. She drew from it the strength to unite in the face of terrorist barbarism and obscurantism.”
“Let us never forget,” Castex concluded.
On the morning of July 26, 2016, two 19-year-old Islamic State radicals, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, stormed into Father Hamel’s church shouting “Allahu Akbar!” They seized the priest who was celebrating Mass, along with 5 other members of the congregation.
Just before having his throat cut, Father Hamel told one of his assailants, “Be gone, Satan!”
Since then, the French priest — 85 years old at his death — has moved steadily toward sainthood in the Catholic Church, after Pope Francis declared him a “martyr” and waived the usual five-year waiting period to open his cause for beatification.
“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, Dominique Lebrun, referring to a photo of the deceased priest that Francis had signed.
Last July, local politicians and clergy honored the memory of the death of Father Hamel with a rosary vigil and a testimony from an eyewitness of the attack that claimed his life.
To mark the occasion, locals processed through the streets of the town in a silent march to the church where Archbishop Lebrun celebrated Mass in remembrance of the martyred priest.
“It’s right for our spirit to rebel against the homicide of a priest in his church, against all forms of violence,” the archbishop said during his homily.
“We must fight for peace,” he added. “Father Jacques Hamel gave his life for this.”
A similar memorial was held on Sunday to mark the fourth anniversary of the priest’s death with the participation of French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who met privately with Father Hamel’s sister.
At 10:00am, a silent procession left the rectory where Fr. Hamel lived, marching to the church where he was killed, where Mass was celebrated at 10:30am by Archbishop Lebrun along with the Archbishop of Reims Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, who is the current President of the French Bishops’ Conference.