ROUEN, France — During Tuesday’s funeral Mass for Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed last week by Islamic State terrorists, the archbishop of Rouen recalled that Father Hamel tried to push away his murderer with his feet, saying twice, “Go away, Satan.”
Archbishop Dominique Lebrun interpreted this as Father Hamel expressing his “faith in man, created good, but grasped by the devil.”
“The death of Jacques Hamel called me to a frank Yes — not to a tepid Yes,” Archbishop Lebrun said Aug. 2 at Rouen’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
“A ‘Yes’ to life, like Jacques’ ‘Yes’ at his ordination. Is this possible? We must respond Yes every time. God will not force us. God is patient. God is merciful. Even when I, Dominique, said No to love, even when I said to God, ‘Perhaps later,’ even when I forgot, God waits for me because of his infinite mercy. But today, can the world still wait for the chain of love which will replace the chain of hate?”
Father Hamel, who was in his 80s, was killed July 26 in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen, while saying Mass. The assailants, who were armed with knives, declared their allegiance to the Islamic State and were later shot dead by police.
Thousands attended the priest’s funeral Mass, including government officials and representatives from the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Archbishop Lebrun said Father Hamel “presents himself with his just works” to God.
“Of course, we cannot pass judgment on the heart of our brother. But so many testimonies cannot be wrong! Father Jacques Hamel had a simple heart.”
He recounted that Father Hamel had been ordained a priest for 58 years, adding that before the priest’s years of faithful charity, “I feel small.”
“Jacques, you were a faithful disciple of Jesus. Wherever you went, you did well.”
Prior to the homily, Father Hamel’s sister Roselyne spoke about his mercy and love, saying that he had refused to become an officer during his military service in colonial Algeria so that he would not have to order others to kill. She said: “The God of love and mercy chose you to be at the service of others … until your last breath.”
Archbishop Lebrun suggested that Father Hamel’s confidence in Christ’s resurrection was “rooted in the experience of death in Algeria. … Perhaps this mystery, this secret you confided, was what was winning hearts in our assembly: Yes, Christ is risen. Death is not the last word.”
“For you, Jacques, the resurrection of Jesus is not a catechism lesson, it is a reality, a reality for our heart, for the secret of the heart, a reality at the same time to share with others, as a confidence,” the archbishop said.
He added, “God knows, before the reality of your death — so brutal, unjust and horrible — that we must look deep into our hearts to find the light.”
The archbishop exhorted those present: “Let us be simple and true with ourselves. It is in our hearts, in the depth of our hearts that we must say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to Jesus, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the path of truth and of peace; ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the victory of love over hate, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to his resurrection.”
Will there be “any other killings before we are to be converted to love and to the justice which builds up love?”
Archbishop Lebrun exclaimed that there are “too many deaths in the Middle East, too many deaths in Africa, too many deaths in America! Too many violent deaths — enough!”
“With Jesus, every man, every woman, every human person can change their hearts with his grace. We recall the words of Jesus even as they seem beyond our strength today: ‘I say to you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.’”
The archbishop said that in the face of such diabolical violence, we must remember in our hearts that “God has fashioned us for love” and must be ready to pray for those in the power of evil.
He offered his admiration to Father Hamel’s family, saying, “Your brother, your uncle was a pillar. He continues to be.”
“It is not for me yet to declare Father Jacques ‘martyr.’ But how do we not recognize the fecundity of the sacrifice he has lived, in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, which he faithfully celebrated in the Eucharist?”
Archbishop Lebrun then turned to the Catholic community of France, especially those who do not often attend Mass.
He appealed to them to visit a church in the coming days, especially on Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, “to affirm that violence will not take root in your hearts, to ask for grace from God; please light a candle in the church, a sign of the Resurrection, to collect yourself and open your hearts to what is most profound; if you can, pray.”