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Christians and Muslims remember Father Hamel

PARIS (AsiaNews): Thousands Christians were joined by their Muslim brothers and sisters at a gathering held at Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray on July 26 in memory of Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered while celebrating Mass by two men who proclaimed their act as a victory for the Islamic State.
The tribute to the 85-year-old priest on the first anniversary of his death began at 9.00am with a Mass broadcast on national television celebrated by Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, from Rouen, in the very church where Father Hamel had spilled his blood.
The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, attended the Mass, along with representatives from various religious faiths and Christina denominations.
Archbishop Lebrun described Father Hamel as a man who spoke the language of love. “However, he continued, “in this church, he was silenced… Yet his life and death speak far beyond what he had imagined… they speak to each of us.”
The Mass was followed by the unveiling of a monument to Father Hamel, which had all the necessities of a republican moment of peace and fraternity.
The metal monument stands two metres in diametre in the shape of a disc, as a sign of strength in the coming together of the people.
The disc is inscribed with various passages from the Declaration of Human Rights and a text from the French Revolution, which had inspired the United Nations in making the declaration.
The monument to Father Hamel is a statement that his death was not simply an attack on a priest, but on the values that underpin western society.
The Vatican Insider described its unveiling as a moment to bring Church and state together in a country where their separation is honoured.
Archbishop Lebrun noted that a succession of lights and shadows has marked France in the past year. Nevertheless, he insisted that Christians have a huge responsibility, as for them, brotherhood is not an option.
He called on everyone to abandon the shadow of hate and move together towards the light of love.
Macron addressed the power of coexistence that he said he believes is stronger than hate.
“At the foot of his altar, the two terrorists surely believed they were sowing a thirst for vengeance and reprisal among the Catholics of France,” Macron said. “They failed.”
He added, “My first word is to thank the Church of France for finding the power of forgiveness. I thank you for giving France the same example… In these troubled times, you remain like tireless craftsmen of peace.”
Archbishop Lebrun told L’Osservatore Romano that the life of Father Hamel questions him as a pastor and shepherd, causing him to think again about how to consider the life of priests, especially in what he expects of them in terms of efficiency.
“I must tirelessly convert, to pass from this request for efficiency to admiration for their fruitfulness,” the Vatican publication quoted him as saying.
The archbishop said that the tragedy has brought him closer to the local society in its diverse components. “And from now on, I am bound to the Muslim community and to the other communities of believers in the territory of my diocese,” he reflected.
The church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray has become a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims alike since the day news of the gruesome murder of the aged priest shocked the nation. People have come from as far away as Canada, Egypt and Britain.
But if, as Macron said, the two terrorists expected to sow the seeds of vengeance and reprisal, they would have been sadly disappointed, as in the town where unemployment stands at 21 per cent, relations and mutual help between Christian and Muslim communities are reported to have improved.
“In our city, the will to live well and together is real,” the mayor of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Joachim Moyse, said. “Healing will take time, but the spilled blood has strengthened us in the desire to live brotherhood better.”
In the church where Father Hamel died, a painting depicts him at prayer. A small plaque simply describes it as a gift from Moubine, a Muslim believer.
Father Hamel offered love in return for hate, and for this he died.

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