Francis: Assassinated French priest joins procession of martyrs

Pope Francis celebrates a memorial Mass for Fr. Jacques Hamel at the Vatican Sept. 14. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis celebrates a memorial Mass for Fr. Jacques Hamel at the Vatican Sept. 14. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

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To kill in the name of God is satanic, Pope Francis said at a special requiem Mass for a French priest assassinated by youths claiming allegiance to the Islamic State.

"Fr. Jacques Hamel had his throat slit on the cross, at the exact moment he was celebrating the sacrifice of Christ's cross. A good man, meek, brotherly and who always sought to make peace, was murdered as if he were a criminal. This is the satanic line of persecution," the pope said Sept. 14 during a morning Mass in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen and Fr. Hamel's sister, Roselyne Hamel, along with 80 pilgrims from the diocese joined Pope Francis for the Mass in memory of Fr. Hamel, who was killed July 26.

Two men stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen while Hamel celebrated Mass. After taking several hostages, the attackers slit Hamel's throat and seriously injured another parishioner. Following a standoff, police killed the attackers, ending the hostage situation.

Related: Pope Francis meets French president in wake of priest’s slaying (Aug. 18, 2016)

Celebrating the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the pope entered the chapel dressed in a red chasuble, the color symbolizing martyrdom. He reverently bowed before the altar, where a picture of Hamel was placed in front of two lit candles.

Lebrun said he had brought the photo and asked Pope Francis to sign it with a note for three religious women who had been with Hamel at Mass that day. The sisters care for the sick in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and were not able to join the pilgrimage to Rome.

Instead of signing the photo before Mass, the pope "immediately told me to put it on the altar," the archbishop told reporters later. "At the end of Mass, when he was greeting everyone, he signed it and said to me, 'You can put this photo in the church because he is "blessed" now, and if anyone says you aren't allowed, tell them the pope gave you permission.'"

In his homily, the pope reflected on the mystery of Christ "who made himself a martyr for the salvation of men and women."

"The history of Christian martyrdom," he said, has continued from the first centuries until today, when "Christians are murdered, tortured, imprisoned and beheaded because they do not deny Jesus Christ."

"In this history, we arrive to our Fr. Jacques. He is a part of this chain of martyrs. The Christians, who suffer today -- be it in prison, in death or by torture -- for not denying Jesus Christ, show the very cruelty of this persecution. And this cruelty that asks for apostasy, we can say, is Satanic," the pope said.

Nonetheless, the pope noted, Fr. Hamel accepted his martyrdom and in his final moments, "did not lose the lucidity to accuse and clearly say the name of his murderer. He clearly said, 'Be gone, Satan.'"

"This example of courage, as well as the martyrdom of his own life when he gave himself to help others, to help create brotherhood, helps us to go forward without fear," the pope said.

Fr. Hamel's sister, Roselyne, told reporters after the Mass she is convinced that neither her brother nor Pope Francis were blaming Islam for the murders. "God is love," Roselyn said, the assassins who "killed my brother did so in the name of a god who is not the God of Islam nor the God of Christianity."

Related: France buries priest murdered by Islamist militants (Aug. 2, 2016)

"The assassins, I think, acted under the influence of the devil, of Satan," Lebrun said. When Fr. Hamel said, "'Be gone, Satan,' he had already been stabbed and was on the floor. His sister immediately gave me a correct interpretation: 'Fr. Jacques did not believe these young men were the origin of this evil.'"

The archbishop said that since the murder there has been an obvious increase in fear among the people of the region and priests have reported receiving dozens of phone calls asking if it is safe to go to church. "But there are more people at Mass now," he said.

"Jesus never said it was stupid to be afraid," Lebrun told reporters. When he tells his disciples, "Do not be afraid," he is telling them to acknowledge their fear and overcome it with the strength of faith.

[Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden.]

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