The Rouen bishop: Father Hamel's beatification cause, the Pope told us to hurry up

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The Rouen bishop: Father Hamel's beatification cause, the Pope told us to hurry up

By Salvatore Cernuzio/ lastampa.it

Two years after the brutal assassination, Monsignor Dominique Lebrun, Pastor of Rouen, described the elderly priest as an "icon of martyrdom". The process of beatification pushed by Francis is ongoing. Celebrations today in the diocese.

"A saint". One of those "everyday saints" of which Pope Francis speaks. "A faithful man", always a little 'in the shade of the diocese, but he spent days and nights writing by hand, on sheets of paper, reflections on the Gospel. An "affectionate" priest with his parishioners whom, however, he never failed to scold, when they arrived late for mass "because for him, the Eucharist was the fundamental moment of the day". A positive figure who has forged good relations with everyone, including the faithful of other religions.

There is a touch of emotion in the voice of Monsignor Dominique Lebrun, bishop of the French diocese of Rouen, in recalling with Vatican Insider Father Jacques Hamel, the 86-year-old priest whom only a few knew until 9 a.m. on 26 July two years ago. His barbaric killing by the hand of two very young extremists affiliated to the Islamic State who slaughtered him while celebrating a morning mass, with five elderly people, in his parish in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Rouen, turned him into a universal symbol of martyrdom that is still celebrated throughout France and the world.

So much so that Pope Francis himself wanted to offer him a memorial service in Casa Santa Marta concelebrated with Lebrun, in the presence of the relatives of the 86-year-old parish priest who had come from Normandy. On that occasion Bergoglio, recalling this "good man of brotherhood, who always sought to make peace", "murdered as if he were a criminal", emblem of that "satanic thread" that binds all persecutions to Christians, announced the decision to proclaim him blessed as soon as possible. Because he, the Pope said, "is a martyr! And martyrs are blessed. "We must pray to him", Francis added, "that he may give us meekness, brotherhood, peace, and even the courage to tell the truth: to kill in the name of God is satanic".

The cause for Father Hamel's beatification was thus opened just one year after his assassination, on 13 April 2017, thanks to the papal dispensation from the five years required for the opening of the trial. Lebrun announced the news during a Chrism Mass, greeted by the applause and tears of those who had known the elderly priest in person or who had learned of his testimony in the months following the assassination. Last April, on a pilgrimage to Rome with a group of young people from the diocese, the bishop met the Pope again: "Together we recalled the testimony of Father Jacques, and concerning the cause, the Holy Father urged me to hurry up" Lebrun tells Vatican Insider.

The first audience in view of the journey towards beatification - now underway in its first diocesan phase, before moving on to Rome to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints - was already held last Saturday, July 21. As the bishop explains, "69 witnesses are involved in the process and will undergo hearings in the coming months". There are relatives, other priests and parishioners, including witnesses of that horror occurred two years ago. "We plan to close the diocesan phase of the Cause as early as next winter and bring it to Rome for April 2019," the prelate says.

The expectation is to see Father Hamel soon elevated to the honors of the altars, since it is a cause for "martyrdom" for which the recognition of a miracle is not necessary. Even if, Lebrun explains, "there are many people who write to us and have written to us in these two years of having received special graces through the intercession of Father Jacques". These letters are now in the hands of the postulator, Rouen Father Paul Vigouroux, who has gathered in the meantime an abundant documentation of the Servant of God.

"In particular - the prelate reveals - we found 500 homilies that we passed to a team of theologians. They are all very short, handwritten in an orderly manner, on paper sheets folded in two, just like in the past, there is nothing written to the computer! These are meditations on the Gospel: "While reading them, what struck me was their simplicity and freshness, Father Hamel made us discover the Gospel as a novelty, as something belonging to the present, making us contemporary with Christ", says Monsignor Lebrun, head of Rouen dioceses just nine months before the assassination of the priest. Father Jacque did not have the opportunity, therefore, to know him in depth: "Apart from a personal meeting, which was very long, I have always met him in diocesan meetings, in pastoral meetings, but he always remained on his own, he did not expose himself, he participated in silence".

"It strikes me - the bishop says - that we have had in our diocese a man of extraordinary holiness, yet extraordinary in his ordinariness. Father Jacques Hamel is in this sense the incarnation of Pope Francis’ Gaudete et exsultate. We passed by him without perhaps even noticing him, as a nephew once said". "Still after 80 years, he celebrated mass with great fervor, as if it were always the first time. For him that was the most important moment of the day. He could not stand us arriving late. This one lady says that that July 26 of two years ago, she arrived in the parish really late, opening the door she saw that there was Father Hamel and scared of being reproached she left. "That saved me", she always repeats".

In a municipality like Rouen, characterized by a strong presence of inhabitants of foreign origin, the old parish priest has maintained good relations with everyone, especially with the Muslim community. "Many of them - Lebrun tells us - have been present in recent months, they were involved in the story even if at first they were afraid. They feared that we "no longer loved them", as I was once told by an imam".

Many representatives of the Islamic world, as well as of the Jewish world or of the other Christian Churches, together with civil authorities and bishops from France or other countries, sent cards and letters to the diocese. Many of these letters are anonymous. All have in common the "reputation of martyr" that Father Jacques enjoyed since his death, which occurred a few months after the attacks of 13 November 2015 that had shocked France and while the World Youth Day in Krakow was taking place. His reputation for holiness, the bishop underlines, has spread like wildfire; today everyone considers Hamel "a man of faith at the service of the whole population, beyond religious affiliations".

No one in the secular France opposed the erection of a sculpture in his honor in the heart of Rouen last year. And this morning there were many who participated in the memorial service celebrated by Monsignor Lebrun in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, in the same church and at the same time as the priest was doing what the Pope called "the sacrifice of the Cross". In the front row there was also Roselyne Hamel, Father Jacque’s sister, who in April 2017 participated in Rome in the liturgy presided over by the Pope "in memory of the Witnesses of the faith of the XX and XXI centuries", organized by Saint Egidio in the Basilica of Saint Bartholomew on the Tiber Island where the original breviary of Father Jacques is also kept.

"Father Hamel radiated with his example, the example of a faithful and discreet servant, in the heart of the family, of his parish, in the heart of this city," the bishop said in his homily. Also significant was his gesture to interrupt the mass for a few seconds, around 9.55, after having distributed communion, and say: "As the witnesses tell us, it is at this point in the mass that the tragedy occurred". "It was a very moving moment, followed by a long moment of silence," explains the prelate.

Before the mass, around 8 a.m., all the participants gathered in front of the rectory, 500 meters from the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, for a silent procession. "We wanted to retrace the journey Father Jacques made every morning", Lebrun explains. At the end of the function, instead, a more official moment took place with the "Republican Ceremony for Peace and Fraternity" in the square in front of the church, with the authorities’ speeches, including that of the Minister of the Interior Jacqueline Gourault who recalled not only Hamel, but all the priests killed in different parts of the world. Twenty-five since the beginning of the year.

The morning ended with a lunch, offered by the Municipality, "in which we all met: from the mayor to the nun present at the time of the assassination, from the parishioners to the deputies, from the police to Father Jacques's relatives. We found ourselves bound to each other, all united by this tragedy that has borne great fruit".

Fri, 07/27/2018 - 12:46
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