The murder of 85-year-old French priest Fr Jacques Hamel, who was executed in his parish church in Normandy yesterday was an attack on all priests, the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, said at the Mass in Time of Persecution at St Mary’s Cathedral on Wednesday.
Fr Hamel was celebrating Mass in the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray when two men claiming allegiance to Islamic State slit his throat.
A nun, who witnessed the attack before escaping while other religious and faithful were held hostage, described the scene to French radio station RMC.
“In the church, everyone screamed ‘Stop, you don’t know what you’re doing.’ They didn’t stop. They forced him to his knees; he tried to defend himself, and it was then that the drama began,” said the nun, who identified herself as Sr Danielle.
“They recorded themselves (on video). They did a little – like a sermon – around the altar in Arabic. It was a horror.”
Archbishop Fisher said the brutal execution was the 14th terror attack in France in the past two years, and followed 163 attacks around the world in the past month.
“The frequency of these incidents is stunning: less than a fortnight after the French people reeled from the barbaric attack in Nice, we see them struck again, in what Pope Francis has said could only be described as ‘absurd violence’,” he said.
But in taking place in a church, the attack at Normandy “strikes at the heart of all we hold dear”.
“A church is a place of peace and love, and when he is saying Mass the priest stands in the place of eternal Love, who is Jesus Christ Himself.
“So this attack is an attack on a particular priest, his congregation, his community, his country; but it also an attack on all priests, all congregations, all communities, all countries because its aim is to undermine people’s sense of security everywhere, freedom of religion everywhere, and our love of peace.”
Archbishop Fisher said the horror of the attacks was heightened by the disregard for innocent life, especially of the elderly and frail.
But love, faith, and hope would not be cowed by such barbarism, he vowed.
“All the martyrs are in a sense icons of the passion of Christ. Paradoxically, then, out of an act of hatred comes a demonstration of great love: in dying in odium fidei Fr Hamel has borne witness to the love of God, who suffered evil rather than perpetrate it, who loved us so much He gave His only Son.
“So today we stand with Fr Jacques and with all those who have given the witness of their lives and deaths, not for a hateful ideology but for faith and hope and love.”