Pope Francis calls murdered French priest ‘blessed’

Vatican City—On Wednesday Pope Francis said Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed by supporters of the Islamic State while celebrating Mass in July, “is blessed now,” according to Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen.

The Archdiocese plans, without a doubt, to open a process of beatification for Father Hamel, said Archbishop Lebrun, according to Religious Information Service.

Pope Francis’ comments were made after he said Mass Sept. 14 at the Vatican in memory of Father Hamel. Archbishop Lebrun, Father Hamel’s sister, and about 80 other pilgrims from Rouen were present.

Archbishop Lebrun, who was Father Hamel’s bishop, asked the pope if he would sign a photograph of the murdered priest for them to take to the three religious sisters who witnessed Father Hamel’s murder, but were unable to travel to Rome for the Mass.

The archbishop was surprised when Pope Francis told him to put the photo on the altar before Mass, though. “This struck me,” he said.

“After he greeted everyone, he was signing the photo and told me: you can put this photo in the church because he (Father Hamel) is blessed now; and if someone tells you that you have no right, you tell them that the pope has given you permission,” Archbishop Lebrun related at a press conference.

During the press conference, which also included Father Hamel’s sister and a laywoman and layman from the Archdiocese of Rouen, Archbishop Lebrun was asked about a statement Pope Francis made in his homily that to kill “in the name of God is satanic.”

“I think that the murderers have accepted the influence of the devil, Satan. The murderers. It is only this,” Archbishop Lebrun clarified.

When Father Hamel uttered the words “be gone, Satan” immediately before his death, he “had already received stab wounds, was already on the ground,” Archbishop Lebrun noted. “Father Jacques could not think that these young people could be at the root of this evil. They are not the source of this evil.”

Asked about the psychological impact the event has had on the French faithful, the archbishop said “there is fear, definitely.”

“A week ago I had a meeting with the vicars of the diocese and they have all told me that they receive calls from people who still wonder if there is Mass, if you can go, if there is some risk.”

Now there are more people attending Mass, though. “That makes me think of the words of Jesus that John Paul II has often stressed: Do not be afraid.”

“I do not think Jesus said it is stupid to be afraid, or there is no reason to be afraid,” he said. “No, Jesus said: Have the courage to be afraid.”

The archbishop said the pope’s words that morning on martyrdom have given them courage. “So yes, I would say that on a psychological level there is fear, but on a deeper level there is more courage.”

By Hannah Brockhaus / Catholic News Agency

Alexey Gotovskyi/CNA: Pope Francis poses with Archbishop Dominique Lebrun and other pilgrims from Rouen at the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 14, 2016.