Rwandan Man Suspected of Killing French Catholic Priest Reportedly Met Pope Francis in 2016

The suspect in the recent murder was identified by the media as Emmanuel Abayisenga, who is also the main suspect in an arson attack July 2020 on the cathedral in Nantes, northwestern France.

A man identified by the French newspaper La Croix as Emmanuel Abayisenga greets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Nov. 11, 2016.
A man identified by the French newspaper La Croix as Emmanuel Abayisenga greets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Nov. 11, 2016. (photo: Vatican Media / Vatican Media)

A Rwandan man who reportedly handed himself in to police after the murder of a priest in western France on Monday met with Pope Francis in 2016, according to French Catholic media.

The suspect, identified by the media as Emmanuel Abayisenga, 40, is also the main suspect in an arson attack on the cathedral in Nantes, northwestern France, in July 2020.

The murder victim was named as Fr. Olivier Maire, 60, the French provincial superior of the Montfort Missionaries (the Company of Mary). His death was announced on Aug. 9 by French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

The French bishops’ conference and the Conference of Religious of France said in a joint statement that the suspect “was staying with Fr. Olivier Maire” in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, a commune in the Vendée department, at the time of the murder.

A photograph taken on Nov. 11, 2016, first published by the French Catholic newspaper La Croix on July 15, showed a man identified as Abayisenga greeting Pope Francis during an audience with socially excluded people in the Vatican.

La Croix confirmed in its Aug. 9 report on the murder of Fr. Maire that Abayisenga “had met with Pope Francis in 2016 in Rome.”

The pope is believed to have met with Abayisenga during a gathering for the European Festival of Joy and Mercy in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

The event for socially excluded people was organized by the French organization Fratello, as part of the Catholic Church’s year-long Jubilee of Mercy. Around 3,600 people attended, including many from France, Poland, and Rome.

According to La Croix, Abayisenga traveled to Rome with a group from Nantes. He had been under the protection of the local Christian community after arriving in the city in 2012, the Catholic newspaper said.

During the meeting, Pope Francis referenced a speech made by another member of the group who had traveled from Nantes.

“I was struck by the persistence of Christian’s use of the word ‘peace,’” the pope said. “And then he spoke of the peace and joy which he experienced when he started taking part in the Nantes choir.”

Oscar Wergeland, “Service in a German Village Church,” ca. 1880

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