I would like offer gratitude and love for all our priests, especially our parish priests, and I honor with deep sorrow the martyrdom of Fr. Jacques Hamel yesterday, on the feast of St. Joachim and Anne, in St. Étienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy, France. This priest was described as grandfatherly, and he died on the feast of Jesus’ own grandfather and grandmother.
This kind and humble 85-year-old priest was celebrating a Tuesday morning 9:00 am Mass when he was attacked by two young men claiming to be with ISIS. About nine hours later, I was gathering my girls to rush out the door for our own parish’s 9:00 am daily Mass when Kate asked me what the weather was going to be like that day. I glanced at my smartphone and saw the terrible news–more terrible news of terrorism in France, this time, in a sanctuary. In a beautiful gothic church, 1000 years old, the heart of a little town–just like so many beautiful French Catholic churches at the center of the many towns we saw on our trip.
When we drove through Normandy from Paris to Lisieux last month, the autoroute we cruised down took us within nine minutes of the church in which he was killed. The next day we backtracked from Lisieux to Les Andelys to spend hours marveling and playing around the ruins of Chateau Gaillard, which is forty minutes away.
I offer love and forgiveness to the attackers, and I invite you to join me in prayers for Divine Mercy for their souls. I especially pray to Our Lady of Sorrows for their mothers who now have lost their sons twice over, first when they were radicalized, and second, in this tragedy. As our Catholic Church leaders repeatedly remind us, in commenting on this tragedy, the response of Christians is to be one of love. This powerful love of Christ, which He pours out from the Cross straight into our hearts, is the only thing stronger than hate, stronger than death.
Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen put it so beautifully in his statement before he left World Youth Day in Krakow to come home and comfort his people:
The only weapons which the Catholic Church can take up are prayer and fraternity among peoples. I return home leaving hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the truth. I ask them not to give up in the face of violence but to become apostles of the civilization of love.
I love France, I love my Catholic Church, and I love our priests. With France, and with all Catholics, I grieve. Of all the many touching words in the press honoring this good priest, I was particularly struck by the simple statement of the town Mayor, Hubert Wulfranc, who said that this act has taken away “our priest.”
Our priest. Our priests. They are there for us, and like the Good Shepherd whom they serve, they are ready to lay down their lives for their sheep.