An elderly French priest murdered a week ago by two extremists tried to push away his attackers with his feet, saying “go away, Satan”, the archbishop of Rouen has told his funeral Mass.
Hundreds of priests and bishops filled Rouen cathedral along with many hundreds more people, including Muslims who have joined in the grieving since the murder of 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel, who was slashed by his attackers while celebrating morning Mass at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
The priest’s murder sent shockwaves that went beyond his work as a small-town parish priest, touching other faiths and all of France. It came less than two weeks after 84 people were killed in a truck attack on a crowd of Bastille Day revellers in Nice.
“Evil is a mystery. It reaches heights of horror that take us out of the human,” Archbishop Dominique Lebrun said during the two-hour Mass.
“Isn’t that what you wanted to say, Jacques, with your last words, when you fell to the ground? After you were struck by the knife, you tried to push away your assailants with your feet and said, ‘Go away, Satan.’ You repeated it, ‘Go away, Satan.'”
With those words, Archbishop Lebrun said, “You expressed … your faith in the goodness of humans and that the devil put his claws in.”
Roselyne Hamel, the priest’s sister, told the crowd: “Let’s learn to live together, let’s be workers for peace.”
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, also in charge of faiths, was among those attending the Mass in the cathedral, which dates from the 12th century. Hundreds of people watched the ceremony on a big screen outside, under constant rain.
Archbishop 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.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, in which the priest, two nuns and an elderly couple were held hostage before the assailants slashed the priest’s throat and seriously wounded the other man. Another nun at the Mass slipped away and raised the alarm, and police shot dead both attackers as they left the church.
Tuesday’s ceremony was organised under tight security, and the burial was private.