Priest killed in France ‘was always there for others’

AFP/Paroisse Saint-Etienne website | Slain French priest Jacques Hamel

Father Jacques Hamel was killed in his Normandy parish on Tuesday in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. Those who knew Hamel described him as an active and involved member of the church despite his advanced age.


Hamel, 86, was killed at the Saint-Etienne parish in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray by knife-wielding attackers who also took hostages before being shot dead by police.

He was born in 1930 in the nearby town of Darnétal and was ordained a priest in 1958, according to the diocese of Rouen’s website.

He had served as an auxiliary priest in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray for the past 10 years after retiring as the parish priest, according to Philippe Maheut, the vicar general who helps oversee the parish.

“He was a man who was always there for others,” Maheut told FRANCE 24 of Hamel. “He was not responsible for the parish, but he was always on hand to celebrate baptisms, marriages, funerals and to meet people. He was someone who was very active.”

“I am deeply saddened that they targeted this elderly priest. I can’t understand how someone could commit such an act,” Maheut added.

‘Lived modestly’

Saint-Etienne’s parish priest, Father Auguste Moanda Phuati, told French daily Libération that he had learned of Hamel’s grisly murder on television. “I could not imagine such a thing could happen to us," Moanda Phuati, who is of Congolese nationality, said.

Moanda Phuati had just returned to France after a visit to his home country, during which time Hamel had stepped in to celebrate many of the functions at the church.

Catholic churches targeted in France

“His wish was to remain at the service of the church,” Moanda Phuati said of the slain clergyman, whom he described as a “warm, simple” man, who “lived modestly”.

Eulalie Garcia, a local hairdresser and parish member, told reporters Hamel had been her catechism teacher when she was a young girl.

“He was very quiet and didn't like to draw attention to himself,” she said.

Alexandre Joly, a priest from a neighbouring parish told Libération he would remember Hamel as a “man of faith”, who took time to listen to others and help them when he could.

Italian politician Roberto Maroni has already urged Pope Francis to put Hamel on a fast track for sainthood.

Local imam mourns ‘friend’

Mohammed Karabila, the president of the Regional Muslim Council and imam of the mosque in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, said he was “appalled by the death of my friend”.

“He was someone who dedicated his life to others,” Karabila told the AFP news agency. The two men had been part of a local interfaith committee for the past 18 months and jointly participated in several public ceremonies in the recent past.

“I don’t understand,” Karabila said. “All our prayers go out to his family and to the Catholic community”.

The mosque in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray was inaugurated in 2000, built on a plot of land that was donated by Saint-Etienne’s sister parish, Saint Theresa's.

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