The funeral today of Fr Jacques Hamel, who was murdered last week while saying Mass. An elderly, much loved priest in a small village in France, like thousands of others. He’d served years beyond his retirement, because he was needed. He’d given land for the local Muslim community to build a mosque. A man of peace, now a martyr. Here’s Fr Hamel in a video at Christmas, talking about how Jesus made himself vulnerable. Kindness shining out of him.
Church and State in France have been separated for a hundred years which means that whatever one’s beliefs, public life is secular. There is a strong anti-clerical current in the country, dating back centuries.
So the reaction of leftwing, secular France was even more surprising. On blog after blog, commentators wrote that attacking a priest in a church was attacking all of us, murder a priest and you cross a red line.
I have family and friends who are priests in France. My elderly aunt, same age as Fr Hamel, opens and closes the church in her small village every day. She’s not about to stop. Last week when I heard of the murder, I needed to be somewhere French and Catholic and went to Notre Dame, the French church in London. Others clearly felt the same, we just sat there shocked and silent. A French flag had been arranged on a side altar.
There’s a terrible paradox at the heart of Fr Hamel’s murder. Much good has come – Muslims attending Mass and the funeral in solidarity, an anonymous, modest country priest now known around the world, bringing people together, determined that those who murdered him will not achieve their ends of dividing us through hatred.
The best way to remember Fr Hamel is to pause today and say a prayer for him. And do something kind in his memory.