Archbishop urges forgiveness at Father Hamel’s funeral

ROUEN, France—During the Aug. 2 funeral Mass for Father Jacques Hamel, killed a week earlier by men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen stressed the need for forgiveness.

“As brutal and unfair and horrible as (Father) Jacques’ death was, we have to look deep into our hearts to find the light,” he told the congregation of more than 1,500 at the Notre Dame Cathedral, while hundreds more watched the ceremony on a big screen outside in the rain.

In his homily, the archbishop said the beloved 85-year-old parish priest tried to push away his attackers with his feet, saying “go away, Satan” twice.

With those words, the archbishop said the priest expressed “faith in the goodness of humans that the devil put his claws in.”

Roselyne Hamel, the priest’s sister, urged the congregation to “learn to live together” and be “workers for peace.”

He also urged the congregation to go to their churches on Aug. 15, feast of the Assumption of Mary, to pray for an end to violence.

The homily and inter-faith support at Father Hamel’s funeral echoed comments from other religious leaders in the week following the killing, including those of Pope Francis.

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley told reporters at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, that it is a great danger to demonize Islam after such an attack. “We are talking here about fanatic terrorists who are persecuting Christians and we have to be very clear we are not painting everyone with the same brush,” he said.

Pope Francis also made that distinction in speaking to reporters on the plane to and from World Youth Day events. On the flight to Poland, a day after the priest’s death, the pontiff stressed that the world is at war but religions are not. Four days later, on the return flight, he said that even though the priest’s murder was committed in the name of Islam, it is unfair to label an entire religion as violent because of the actions of a few fundamentalists.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, likewise stressed in a July 27 Facebook post: “ISIS is not Islam. ISIS and any form of terrorism in the name of God is an aberration of religion.”

“We must distinguish between true religion and the twisted religion used to justify hatred and violence,” Father Rosica, who also is the English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, said. He also stressed the need “now more than ever” for Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Muslim and political leaders similarly called out the Islamic State for its ploy to provoke religious hostilities. France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Islamic State militants aimed to “attack one religion to provoke a war of religion.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, condemned the attack and also said the “apparent goal of the cowardly murderers is to create divisions between faiths and to breed hostility between the followers of different faiths. We must not allow the terrorists to achieve their twisted goal.”

Archbishop Lebrun thanked everyone for attending the Mass, including “believers of other religious faiths, in particular the Jewish community and the Muslim community.”

Father Hamel’s burial after the Mass was private.

Catholic News Service

Carol Zimmermann, CNS, also contributed to this report. 

CNS photo/Jacky Naegelen, Reuters: Pallbearers carry the coffin of Father Jacques Hamel Aug. 2 outside the cathedral in Rouen, France. Father Hamel was killed July 26 in an attack on a church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen; the attack was carried out by assailants linked to the Islamic State.