One year after the brutal killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel, French bishops recalled the beautiful example of the man who lived out every day in simple faithfulness, rooted in the love of Christ.
Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille wrote in a statement Monday that Fr. Jacques Hamel, who was murdered by Islamist extremists while celebrating Mass, was, in the words of his sister, Roseline: “above all a man among men.”
“It was this man among men who was killed. It was this man among men, this priest, that has become a symbol of a life lived with each other, for each other, a life of daily fidelity, a life rooted in the love of the One who has made each one of us out of love: Christ.”
“Such a life becomes a model and an encouragement for all,” he said.
The 85-year-old parish priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, was killed while celebrating Mass July 26, 2016 after two armed gunmen stormed his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy.
The assailants entered the church and took the priest and four others hostage. Local law enforcement reported that the priest’s throat was slit in the attack, and that both of the hostage takers were shot dead by police. The attackers were identified as Islamist extremists.
Pope Francis issued a statement at the time decrying the “absurd violence.” He later said during a Mass in September 2016 at the Vatican in honor of Fr. Hamel that the slain priest “is blessed now,” according to Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen who was there.
July 26 will mark one year since the assassination of Fr. Hamel, Archbishop Pontier said. “It was one of those unthinkable events that leaves one speechless and becomes a great testimony, a lesson for all.”
“The Christian community, and far beyond it, French society remembers,” he continued. We do not want to forget his family, his relatives, the other victims, his parish, bruised in their deep affection and human ties.”
In the statement, the archbishop also evoked the upcoming Feast of the Assumption, which is celebrated on August 15. This feast, he said, “which brings us together in the middle of the summer,” is a day reserved especially for the French to pray for their country.
“I invite you to pray for France. Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, to raise up many men and women who live their ordinary lives for others and with others. Let the fraternity longed for become a reality. May it inspire our personal choices and the choice of those who exercise responsibilities, of whatever kind.”
To commemorate the day of his death, the Diocese of Rouen, where Fr. Hamel was a priest, plans to hold a special Mass July 26 at the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, at the same hour as the Mass he was celebrating when killed.
After the Mass, the community of the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray will erect a stone in memory of Fr. Hamel and in promotion of peace and fraternity.
In the evening they will hold evening prayer in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Bonsecours in Rouen, followed by a time of prayer at the tomb of Fr. Hamel.
Fr. Hamel’s sister, Roseline, spoke about her brother April 22 during testimony on modern-day martyrs during a special liturgy said by Pope Francis in the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Rome’s Tiber Island.
Speaking to the congregation, Roseline said that in his old age Fr. Hamel had been fragile, but “he was also strong. Strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people, whoever it was, and – I am certain – also for his killers.”
His death, she said, “is in line with the life of a priest, which was one of a life given: a life offered to the Lord, when he said ‘yes’ at the moment of his ordination, a life of service to the Gospel, a life given for the church and her people, above all the poorest.
She pointed to the “paradox” that while alive her brother never wanted to be “at the center,” but that after his death, “has given a testimony for the entire world, the greatness of which we cannot measure.”
After her brother died, Roseline said the reaction of the community was strong. Rather than wanting revenge, there was a desire for “love and forgiveness,” she said, explaining that even Muslims who wanted to show solidarity with Christians came to visit the parish for Sunday Masses in a show of support.
Despite her loss, Roseline said “it’s a great comfort to see how many new encounters, how much solidarity, how much love have been generated by the witness of Jacques,” and prayed that his sacrifice would “bring fruits, so that the men and women of our time can find the path to living together in peace.”