Nearly 2,000 mourners have gathered for the funeral of the Roman Catholic priest knifed to death at his church altar – with his sister decribing him as “our brother, your brother”.
Father Jacques Hamel was leading morning mass in the industrial town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray last Tuesday when the attackers stormed in, forced the 85-year-old to his knees and slit his throat.
Amid tight security at the gothic Rouen cathedral in Normandy, a procession of senior clergy followed pallbearers who carried Father Hamel’s coffin through the “Door of Mercy” and placed it on an ornate rug before the altar
The priest’s sister, Roselyne Hamel, told the congregation how during his military service in Algeria her brother had refused an officer’s rank so as not give the order to kill, and how he once emerged the sole survivor in a desert shootout.
“He would often ask himself: ‘Why me?’ Today, Jacques, our brother, your brother, you have your answer: Our God of love and mercy chose you to be at the service of others,” she said.
“Let’s learn to live together, let’s be workers for peace,” Ms Hamel told the estimated 1,700 mourners. Hundreds of others watched the ceremony on a big screen outside the cathedral, under constant rain.
The service – attended by French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve – was to be followed by a private burial.
Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, celebrating the Mass, extended thanks to Catholics attending the service but also to “believers of other religious faiths, in particular the Jewish community and the Muslim community, very affected and already decided to unite for: Never again”.
Archbishop Lebrun invited people to return to churches on August 15, the day celebrating the Assumption of Mary, to express that “violence will not take over in their hearts”.
On Sunday, dozens of Muslims in France and Italy attended Catholic Masses as a gesture of interfaith solidarity following the attack on the priest.
Father Hamel’s murder by French citizens was the first Islamist attack on a church in western Europe and came just 12 days after a Tunisian who had pledged allegiance to Isis drove his truck through a crowd of Bastille Day revellers in the Riviera city of Nice, killing 84.
Islamist militants have killed more than 200 people in France since January 2015.
~ Antony Paone , The Independent