The President of France Emmanuel Macron will attend a Mass Wednesday morning in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray (Normandy) in tribute to Father Jacques Hamel, assassinated a year ago by two Islamic State jihadists.
The anniversary Mass will be celebrated at 9:00am by the Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, in the church where the French priest was killed. French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb will also be present at this ceremony, as will Anouar Kbibech, the former president of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM).
Around 9:45am on July 26, 2016, 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel was celebrating a morning Mass for a small congregation when two 19-year-old Islamic terrorists, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, burst into the church and assailed the priest. Just before having his throat slit, Father Hamel told one of his assailants, “Be gone, Satan!”, the last words he uttered before dying.
The two jihadists were killed by the security forces as they exited the church. Two days after the assassination, nearly 3,500 people paid tribute to Father Hamel in local ceremony.
Last September, Pope Francis called the slain French priest a Christian “martyr,” a qualification that automatically makes the person a saint in the Church’s eyes, while also condemning murder “in God’s name” to be the work of Satan.
The Pope said that the murdered 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 Archbishop Dominique Lebrun. He was referring to a photo of the deceased priest, which the Pope had signed.
In an extended reflection on Christian martyrdom, the Pope said that there are “more Christian martyrs” today than in the early days of Christianity.
“Today there are Christians murdered, tortured, imprisoned, slaughtered because they do not deny Jesus Christ,” he said.
Francis said that Father Jacques Hamel “is part of this chain of martyrs.”
“Christians who suffer today because they will not deny Jesus Christ—whether in prison or by death or torture—they show how cruel this persecution is. And this cruelty that demands apostasy—we say the word—is Satanic.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome