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Pope’s adviser says murdered French priest could be declared martyr

Cardinal Sean O’Malley talks about Christian persecution and welcoming migrants

One of Pope Francis’ closest advisers has suggested the priest killed in France on Tuesday could be declared a martyr while saying that the persecution of Christians should inspire Catholics to be “more faithful.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley said that Fr Jacques Hamel, who was murdered by Islamic extremists saying Mass in Rouen , had said it was “hatred of the faith” that put him in harms way. To declare someone a martyr the Church requires that the individual was killed for such a reason which is often referred to by its Latin phrase: “Odium Fidei.”

The Boston cardinal and member of the Pope’s council of nine advisers spoke to journalists during a briefing at the Taurun Centre in Krakow during World Youth Day and then later took one-on-one questions. Alongside the Fr Hamel case, Cardinal O’Malley also spoke about the importance of welcoming refugees and migrants.

What is your reaction to the killing of a priest in France and where that leaves the question of Christian persecution? 

In Krakow we have the history of persecution of people for their faith, and we see the blood of martyrs has been the seed of the Church. We see how the faith has flourished here despite totalitarian and atheistic systems which has tried to suppress religion. The Church has always been persecuted, it’s not something new. In fact in recent years the number of people who have died for their faith has multiplied all over the world in particularly in Arica and the Middle East, now we see that in Europe. Very often it is a question of “Odium Fidei” – it’s hatred for the faith that’s causing them to be in harms way. Certainly their courage and faith must be a witness to all of this, “a cloud of witnesses” as the scriptures say that will inspire us to be more faithful to the treasure of faith that we have received.

Is Fr Hamel a martyr? 

The priest died saying Mass – the same way that Archbishop Romero was murdered while he was celebrating the eucharist – it was a question of hatred of faith that put him in harms way. A lot will depend on the question of the French Catholics and whether they want to pursue the cause.

What about the response by Catholics to Muslims? 

To demonise Islam that’s always the great danger. We are talking here about fanatic terrorists who are persecuting Christians. And we have to be very clear we are not painting everyone with the same brush.

You have made care for migrants a key part of your ministry, as has the Pope. But here in Poland we have a government that is hostile to refugees. How will Pope Francis handle this tension? 

It was my joy and privilege to be in Washington for twenty years as a young priest and during that time I was working with refugees from Central America. Ninety per cent of them were undocumented “aliens” – it makes them sound like martians! – but they were people whose families were starving to death in war-torn countries who came to Washington to be able to work at the hardest jobs and to send the money back to keep their families alive. I have such a admiration for the spirit of sacrifice and generosity of those immigrants.

There are 60 million refugees in our world today, people who have lost their homes and who are trying to survive with their families. When I was a bishop in Florida when Jeb Bush was the governor and there were people arriving in rafts from Haiti I told the governor: “you know if the Bushes and the O’Malleys were in Haiti we would be building a raft.” I think we have to realise that this is a human response for people to want to save their children and to want to give them enough to eat. And the rest of the world must sit up and take notice. The wonderful parable of Lazarus and the rich man is precisely about having this poor starving person on their doorstep and being blind to their presence and their reality. As people who are people of faith we must open our eyes and see in them not a stranger or a threat but a brother and sister and reach out to them. The Holy Father’s message is very clear and the gospel’s message is very clear so I hope more and more people take it to heart.

Is this an issue the Pope will raise here in Poland? 

The Holy Father will address this and he has done consistently. This is something that is very close to his heart and it is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces – we haven’t had this many refugees since World War Two.


1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    “To demonise Islam that’s always the great danger. We are talking here about fanatic terrorists who are persecuting Christians. And we have to be very clear we are not painting everyone with the same brush.”
    Fanatic terrorists, i.e. fundamentalists, are supported by the masses of moderates who insist that these ancient, sexist , racist, genocidal books are somehow holy, sacred and inspired – or worse – literally correct. As long as it is maintained by the majority that the words are holy, then those who carry them out, as in this instance, are the righteous ones. That is what the Abrahamic holy books instruct. Christianity is slightly more civilized because it has about 600 more years of killing others and each other in which to have gotten tired of all the killing and to recognize that there is never a long term winner. Muslims have yet to learn that lesson, but unfortunately the weapons they have available to them today are much worse than what the RCC had available to it back in the days when it did the same thing.
    The Cardinal goes on to speak of the homeless, starving and refugees, but in many countries at least, we would not have this problem if the Church empowered women by allowing them to control their own bodies, and not force those least able to support large families to do so under threat of eternal torment if they use contraception. You do not get credit for helping to put out a fire that you are throwing kerosene on – and that’s what the RCC is doing with its Iron Age policies on all things related to sex. This manic obsession with sex by the RCC has got to be addressed with compassionate, rational thought in order to stop contributing to our eventual extinction.

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