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Pope Francis pays tribute to modern martyrs

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Catholic News Service

ROME — The Christian church today needs believers who witness each day to the power of God’s love, but it also needs the heroic witness of those who stand up to hatred even when it means giving up their lives, Pope Francis said.

During a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome April 22, Pope Francis greets Roselyne Hamel, sister of Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in Rouen, France, July 18, 2016. (CNS/Maurizio Brambatti)

During a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome April 22, Pope Francis greets Roselyne Hamel, sister of Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in Rouen, France, July 18, 2016. (CNS/Maurizio Brambatti)

At Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew, a shrine to modern martyrs, Pope Francis presided over an evening prayer service April 22, honoring Christians killed under Nazism, communism, dictatorships and terrorism.

“These teach us that with the force of love and with meekness one can fight arrogance, violence and war, and that with patience peace is possible,” the pope said in his homily in the small basilica on Rome’s Tiber Island.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said he wanted to add to the martyrs remembered at St. Bartholomew by including “a woman, I don’t know her name, but she watches from heaven.”

The pope said he’d met the woman’s husband, a Muslim, in Lesbos, Greece, when he visited a refugee camp there in 2016. The man told the pope that one day, terrorists came to their home. They saw his wife’s crucifix and ordered her to throw it on the ground. She refused and they slit her throat.

“I don’t know if that man is still at Lesbos or if he has been able to leave that ‘concentration camp’” the pope said, explaining that despite the good will of local communities many refugee camps are overcrowded and are little more than prisons “because it seems international agreements are more important than human rights.”

But, getting back to the story of the Muslim man who watched his wife be murdered, the pope said, “Now it’s that man, a Muslim, who carries this cross of pain.”

“So many Christian communities are the object of persecution today. Why? Because of the hatred of the spirit of this world,” the pope said. Jesus has “rescued us from the power of this world, from the power of the devil,” who hates Jesus’ saving power and “creates the persecution, which from the time of Jesus and the early church continues up to our day.”

“What does the church need today?” the pope asked. “Martyrs and witnesses, those everyday saints, those saints of an ordinary life lived with coherence. But it also needs those who have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses to the end, to the point of death. All of those are the living blood of the church,” those who “witness that Jesus is risen, that Jesus lives.”

Under a large icon depicting modern martyrs of the gulag and concentration camp, Pope Francis prayed: “O Lord, make us worthy witnesses of your Gospel and your love; pour out your mercy on humanity; renew your church; protect persecuted Christians; and quickly grant the whole world peace.”

During the prayer service, Pope Francis wore a stole that had belonged to Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, who was murdered in Mosul, Iraq, in 2007.

Father Ganni’s stole along with dozens of other items that belonged to men and women martyred in the 20th and 21st centuries are on display on the side altars at the basilica, which is cared for by the lay Sant’Egidio Community.

During the prayer service, at which Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox clergy were involved, people who had been close to those honored as martyrs at the shrine spoke.

Karl A. Schneider’s father, the Rev. Paul Schneider, was the first Protestant pastor martyred by the Nazis for opposing their hate-filled doctrine. He was married and the father of six children.

“My father was assassinated in 1939 in the Buchenwald concentration camp because he believed the objectives of National Socialism were irreconcilable with the words of the Bible,” Schneider told the congregation. “All of us, still today, make too many compromises, but my father remained faithful only to the Lord and to the faith.”

The next to speak was Roselyne Hamel, the sister of French Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered as he celebrated Mass July 26, 2016. The Archdiocese of Rouen has begun his sainthood cause with Pope Francis’ approval. Father Hamel’s breviary is preserved at St. Bartholomew’s.

“Jacques was 85 years old when two young men, radicalized by hate speech, thought they could become heroes by engaging in homicidal violence,” his sister told the pope. “At his age, Jacques was fragile, but he also was strong — strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people.”

His witness to Gospel values continues, she said, in the reaction of Christians who did not call for revenge after his death, but for love and forgiveness. And, she said, the family and local church have experienced “the solidarity of Muslims who wanted to visit our Sunday assemblies after his death.”

“For his family, there certainly is pain and a void, but it is a great comfort to see how many new encounters, how much solidarity and love were generated by Jacques’ witness,” she said.

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Assassinated French priest joins procession of martyrs, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — To kill in the name of God is satanic, Pope Francis said at a special requiem Mass for a French priest assassinated by youths claiming allegiance to the Islamic State.

Pope Francis celebrates a memorial Mass for Father Jacques Hamel in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta at the Vatican Sept. 14. Father Hamel, seen in the photo on the altar, was murdered while celebrating Mass in Rouen, France, July 26; the two killers claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis celebrates a memorial Mass for Father Jacques Hamel in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta at the Vatican Sept. 14. Father Hamel, seen in the photo on the altar, was murdered while celebrating Mass in Rouen, France, July 26; the two killers claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Father Jacques Hamel had his throat slit on the cross, at the exact moment he was celebrating the sacrifice of Christ’s cross. A good man, meek, brotherly and who always sought to make peace, was murdered as if he were a criminal. This is the satanic line of persecution,” the pope said Sept. 14 during a morning Mass in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen and Father Hamel’s sister, Roselyne Hamel, along with 80 pilgrims from the diocese joined Pope Francis for the Mass in memory of Father Hamel, who was killed July 26.

Two men stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen while Father Hamel celebrated Mass. After taking several hostages, the attackers slit Father Hamel’s throat and seriously injured another parishioner. Following a standoff, police killed the attackers, ending the hostage situation.

Celebrating the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the pope entered the chapel dressed in a red chasuble, the color symbolizing martyrdom. He reverently bowed before the altar, where a picture of Father Hamel was placed in front of two lit candles.

Archbishop Lebrun said he had brought the photo and asked Pope Francis to sign it with a note for three religious women who had been with Father Hamel at Mass that day. The sisters care for the sick in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and were not able to join the pilgrimage to Rome.

Instead of signing the photo before Mass, the pope “immediately told me to put it on the altar,” the archbishop told reporters later. “At the end of Mass, when he was greeting everyone, he signed it and said to me, ‘You can put this photo in the church because he is “blessed” now, and if anyone says you aren’t allowed, tell them the pope gave you permission.’”

In his homily, the pope reflected on the mystery of Christ “who made himself a martyr for the salvation of men and women.”

“The history of Christian martyrdom,” he said, has continued from the first centuries until today, when “Christians are murdered, tortured, imprisoned and beheaded because they do not deny Jesus Christ.”

“In this history, we arrive to our Father Jacques. He is a part of this chain of martyrs. The Christians, who suffer today — be it in prison, in death or by torture, — for not denying Jesus Christ, show the very cruelty of this persecution. And this cruelty that asks for apostasy, we can say, is Satanic,” the pope said.

Nonetheless, the pope noted, Father Hamel accepted his martyrdom and in his final moments, “did not lose the lucidity to accuse and clearly say the name of his murderer. He clearly said, ‘Be gone, Satan.’”

“This example of courage, as well as the martyrdom of his own life when he gave himself to help others, to help create brotherhood, helps us to go forward without fear,” the pope said.

Father Hamel’s sister, Roselyne, told reporters after the Mass she is convinced that neither her brother nor Pope Francis were blaming Islam for the murders. “God is love,” Roselyn said, the assassins who “killed my brother did so in the name of a god who is not the God of Islam nor the God of Christianity.”

“The assassins, I think, acted under the influence of the devil, of Satan,” Archbishop Lebrun said. When Father Hamel said, “’Be gone, Satan,’ he had already been stabbed and was on the floor. His sister immediately gave me a correct interpretation: ‘Father Jacques did not believe these young men were the origin of this evil.’”

The archbishop said that since the murder there has been an obvious increase in fear among the people of the region and priests have reported receiving dozens of phone calls asking if it is safe to go to church. “But there are more people at Mass now,” he said.

“Jesus never said it was stupid to be afraid,” Archbishop Lebrun told reporters. When he tells his disciples, “Do not be afraid,” he is telling them to acknowledge their fear and overcome it with the strength of faith.

 

Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden.

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French president meets with pope to thank him for this words after terrorist attacks

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis met privately at the Vatican with French President Francois Hollande, who said he felt it necessary to thank the pope in person for his words after the slaying of a French priest and other terrorist attacks in France.

The president arrived in Rome Aug. 17 and went directly to the French national church, St. Louis, to visit a

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with French President Francois Hollande at the Vatican Aug. 17. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with French President Francois Hollande at the Vatican Aug. 17. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

chapel set up as a place of prayer for the victims of terrorism.

The chapel honors the memory of the 130 people who died during the November attacks in Paris, the 84 who died in Nice July 14 and Father Jacques Hamel, who was brutally murdered as he celebrated Mass July 26. Father Hamel’s killers claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.

After the priest’s murder, Hollande had phoned the pope, telling him that “when a priest is attacked, all of France is wounded.” Pope Francis, traveling to Poland the next day, told reporters he appreciated Hollande’s call, reaching out to him “as a brother.”

Hollande and the pope reportedly spent about 40 minutes meeting privately. The president also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the Vatican provided no details of the discussion. However, it did say that as a gift, Pope Francis gave Hollande a bronze medallion inscribed with the words, “The desert will become a garden,” referencing the prophet Isaiah.

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Viewpoint: Pray for those who answer the call

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Bishop Malooly and Father Norman P. Carroll, director of the Office of Priestly and Religious Vocations and pastor of St. Elizabeth Church, met with the five current seminarians for the Diocese of Wilmington at St. E’s rectory July 21 for dinner. Read more »

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Pope, U.S. bishops’ leader express shock after Islamic State murder of a priest in French church

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The murder of a priest in northern France, taken hostage with a handful of other faithful during a weekday morning Mass July 26, is another act of “absurd violence” added to too many stories of senseless violence and death, said the Vatican spokesman.

People walk past St. Therese Church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, near Rouen July 27, a day after a French priest was killed with a knife during Mass. (CNS photo/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters)

People walk past St. Therese Church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, near Rouen July 27, a day after a French priest was killed with a knife during Mass. (CNS photo/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters)

Pope Francis was informed about the hostage situation at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen and the murder of 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

“With pain and horror” for the “absurd violence,” Pope Francis expressed his condemnation of “every form of hatred” and offered his prayers for all those involved.

“We are particularly stricken because this horrible violence occurred in a church, a sacred place in which the love of God is proclaimed, with the barbaric killing of a priest,” Father Lombardi said.

Police said two men, armed with knives, entered the church during Mass. They reportedly slit the throat of Father Hamel. They said another person present at the Mass was in serious condition at the hospital. An Interior Ministry spokesman said the attackers were killed by police, ending the hostage situation.

A nun who witnessed the attack 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 Sister Danielle.

“They recorded themselves (on video). They did a little, like a sermon, around the altar in Arabic. It was a horror.”

The sister managed to escape the church and flag down a car for help, RMC reported.

She told the station about her respect for her colleague.

“It’s necessary to remember that this was an extraordinary priest,” Sister Danielle told RMC. “That’s all I want to say. He’s great, Father Jacques.”

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack via its news site, though the group’s involvement has not been confirmed by French police. French President Francois Hollande suggested the group was behind the attack.

Hollande called Pope Francis to express “the grief of the French people after the odious assassination of Father Jacques Hamel by two terrorists,” said a statement from the president’s office.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, who was in Krakow, Poland, with World Youth Day pilgrims when the attacked occurred, said he would return to his archdiocese.

“The Catholic Church can take up no weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among people of goodwill,” the archbishop said in a statement from Krakow. He said that while he would leave Poland, hundreds of young people from his diocese would remain. “I ask them not to give in to violence,” but instead “become apostles of the civilization of love.”

Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, secretary-general of the French bishops’ conference, also was in Krakow for World Youth Day. He told media: “We know now they were both terrorists.”

“We believe that evil and violence will not have the upper hand, and all the French bishops share this opinion,” he said.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a message of condolence to Archbishop Lebrun. The cardinal said Pope Francis was “particularly upset that this act of violence took place in a church during Mass, the liturgical act that implores God’s peace for the world.”

In the latest event of violence, the cardinal said, the pope prayed God would “inspire in all thoughts of reconciliation and brotherhood.”

Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, was another church leader in Krakow for World Youth Day. He told Catholic News Service the attack in France reminded him of the 2010 massacred in Baghdad’s Church of Our Lady of Deliverance “when they held the people inside the church” during Sunday evening Mass “and killed two priests and then started killing the rest.” A total of 48 people were killed and more than 100 were injured.

“This is the sort of world we are living in,” Archbishop Warda said. “We pray for the priest and everyone who was shocked and horrified.”

At the same time, “we pray for all of ISIS so they could really wake up and know the God of mercy,” he said. “We know that it is going to be harder and harder because the more you push them, they come up with more terrifying stories and events.”

“It’s shocking, it’s sad, really sad” to know they could “enter a church, a place of prayer” and commit such violence, the archbishop said. “Imagine you enter a mosque and start killing people; but that’s ISIS. That’s the way they act. Unfortunately this is the way they’ve been trained.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed gratitude for “the unforgettable witness of the faithful” in the church attack.

“Jesus calls us to be sisters and brothers, to strive to care for one another, and always to reject the evil that seeks to divide us,” the archbishop wrote in a July 26 statement.

 

Contributing to this story were Colleen Dulle in Washington and Robert Duncan in Krakow.

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