Martyred priest Jacques Hamel’s active presence

The second anniversary of martyred priest Jacques Hamel’s assassination was marked with secular and religious ceremonies last week.

He was murdered by Islamic terrorists while celebrating Mass on 26 July 2016. Priests, laity and parishioners say they have been changed by his death.

Hamel’s parishioners speak of how it strengthened bonds between them: “In killing Father Hamel, the terrorists attacked us as well,” they say.

It has led to renewed fervour and commitment among them.

Parishioners say the cause of their cohesion is Father Hamel himself. Already an intercessor, he could become their patron saint.  His beatification process has begun.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun paid homage to the community during the second anniversary Mass, referring to their closeness and cohesion as a “miracle.”

Mass attendance has risen, there are 14 child altar servers (compared to two, previously) and people whom Hamel baptized want their marriages or funerals to be celebrated in Hamel’s church, even if they don’t live in the parish.

In addition, pilgrims visit the church where Hamel was killed. About twenty groups are expected to visit between now and October.

French priests reflecting on Hamel’s example are also noticing how he is changing their lives.

They say changes include a recognising of the need for authenticity and seriousness in ministry. They also notice how older French priests like Hamel embed themselves in local communities, which has led to younger priests developing better understanding and respect for their older confrères.

Younger priests note how older priests are like Hamel in persevering in the small matters of daily life and show constancy in faith even during times of great change.

Hamel’s death has raised questions for all of us, one priest says. They wonder: “Are we Christian? Are we ready to give our lives?”

Many priests have been violently killed or threatened in other countries, he said.

Some priests say they remember Hamel for his ongoing dialogue with Muslims. Alongside the Regional Council for the Muslim Faith, he belonged to an interfaith committee created after terrorist attacks in January 2015.

He also insisted on interreligious dialogue.

“Since the assassination, Muslim-Christian dialogue has become stronger at Béziers, particularly with one of the five mosques in the city,” said Father Bortheirie, who is from a parish in the city centre.

“Without being naive, I pray that relations between Muslims and Catholics continue despite everything.”

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News category: World.

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