The tomb of Father Jacques Hamel  (AFP or licensors)

By Lisa Zengarini & Xavier Sartre

Feb 15 2022

Nearly six years after the murder of Father Jacques Hamel in his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray four alleged accomplices went on trial in Paris, on Monday. The Archbishop of Rouen expresses hope the trial will bring justice to the victims, but also give a clearer picture of the motives of his killers.

As the trial against four alleged accomplices in the heinous assassination of Father Jacques Hamel began in Paris on Monday, the Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, says he hopes that it will shed light on one of the most gruesome jihadist attacks that has occurred in France in recent years and that it will spur fraternal relations between Muslims and Christians in France.

The 85-year-old French priest’s throat was slit with a knife whilst he stood on the altar celebrating Mass on 26 July, 2016, at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen in northwest France. Hamel’s murder came as the country was grappling with an unprecedented wave of jihadist terrorist attacks that began with the massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015 and which have claimed more than 250 lives.

Four alleged accomplices

His killers, both French citizens, Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean, also seriously injured one of the worshippers they took hostage and were shot dead by the police as they tried to leave the church. In a video they claimed to be members of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) retaliating for France’s fight against jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Appearing at the Court of Assize in Paris today were three alleged accomplices,  Jean-Philippe Jean Louis, Farid Khelil and Yassine Sebaihia, belonging to the entourage of the attackers. According to the prosecution they knew about and supported the attackers’ plan.  The defendants, however, have denied the charges, with their lawyers calling them “scapegoats”. A fourth defendant, Rachid Kassim, a French ISIL recruiter who is considered  the mind behind the attack, is believed to have been killed in a coalition airstrike in Iraq and is being tried in absentia since the death has not been confirmed.

Expectations from the trial

Speaking to Xavier Sartre of Vatican News, Archbishop Lebrun recounted his expectations and the ones of the victims,  saying he also hoped hearings would help explain the reasons behind targeting an elderly priest while celebrating Mass. He noted that the trial represents an important step in the grief process of the families, but also a reminder that above and beyond human justice, there is the justice of God’s Mercy.

The French prelate said the local community of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and people in France carry his memory in their hearts with many pilgrims coming to pray in his church and on his tomb.

Fraternal dialogue with Muslims

Asked about the relations with the local Muslim community after Father Hamel’s murder, Archbishop Lebrun said his martyrdom has offered an opportunity to deepen these relations and has spurred to reflect together on violence in religion,  on universal fraternity and on coexistence in spite of differences. “We need dialogue to find how we can live together and promote Jesus’ message of universal fraternity”, he said.

The beatification process

Soon after Father Hamel’s murder , Pope Francis authorized the Church in France to open the beatification process, the a first step to sainthood,  saying he was a “martyr”.

Speaking during the Holy Mass in his suffrage in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae on September 14 2016, the  Pope recalled that the elderly priest had his throat cut on the Cross, precisely while he was celebrating the sacrifice of the Cross of Christ. “This is the satanic thread of persecution”, he said. “He gave his life for us, he gave his life so as not to deny Jesus. He gave his life in the same sacrifice of Jesus on the altar, and from there he accused the author of persecution: ‘Be gone, Satan!’”.

The diocesan phase of the beatification process concluded in March 2019 and documents are currently being examined by the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints who will have to ascertain that he was killed “in odium fidei”, in hatred of the faith.  -Vatican News