FRANCE: Christians and Muslims together in memory of Fr Jacques Hamel’s martyrdom

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SHAFAQNA – The Archbishop of Rouen led the Mass in the church where the priest was murdered. Emmanuel Macron thanks the Church of France for her “power of forgiveness”. Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray has become a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims.

Thousands of people, Christians and Muslims, gathered in Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray to remember the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old priest killed by two young jihadists last year.

The tribute to the murdered priest began at 9 am with a Mass celebrated by Mgr Dominique Lebrun, archbishop of Rouen, in the church where the martyrdom occurred. French President Emmanuel Macron was also present as were representatives of various religions.

The service was followed by the unveiling of a tribute to Fr Hamel’s memory and some speeches by a number of dignitaries.

In his homily, Mgr Lebrun pointed out that Fr Hamel “spoke the language of love.” However, “in this church, he was silenced . . . Yet his life and death speak far beyond what he had imagined . . . they speak to each of us.”

After the Mass, there was a “republican” moment of peace and fraternity, with the unveiling of a metal disc as a memorial tribute on which are inscribed passages from the Declaration of Human Rights and stylised profiles, including Fr Hamel’s.

Bishop Lebrun noted that a “succession of lights and shadows” marked France in the past year. Still, Christians have a “huge responsibility. For them, brotherhood is not an option.” Indeed, the prelate called on everyone to “abandon the shadow of hate” and “move together towards the light of love”.

In his address, President Macron stressed the power of coexistence that is stronger than hate. “At the foot of his altar the two terrorists surely believed they were sowing a thirst for vengeance and reprisals among the Catholics of France,” Macron said. “They failed.”

“My first word,” he added, “is to thank the Church of France for finding the power of forgiveness. I thank you for giving France the same example . . . In these troubled times, you remain like tireless craftsmen of peace.”

Since Fr Hamel’s murder, the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray church has become a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims. This year people came from as far away as Canada, Egypt, and Great Britain . . .

In the town where unemployment stands at 21 per cent, relations and mutual help between Christian and Muslim communities have also improved.

“In our city, the will to live well and together is real,” said Mayor Joachim Moyse. “Healing will take time, but the spilled blood has strengthened us in the desire to live brotherhood better.”

In the church where Fr Hamel was killed, there is a painting depicting him whilst praying. It is a gift from Moubine, “a Muslim believer”

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