Father Jacques Hamel was Described as modest, dedicated and always available for his parishioners, Father Jacques Hamel, 84, who was murdered in his Normandy church while celebrating morning mass, had been retired for nearly a decade.
He still officiated regularly as auxiliary at the church in St Étienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, and in neighbouring Elbeuf, local media reported, stepping in when the parish’s regular priest, Father Auguste Moanda-Phuati, was busy.
The priest’s throat was slit by two men armed with knives who took five people – Hamel, two nuns and two worshippers – hostage in the church. The two men were later shot by police. Three hostages were freed unharmed but one is in a critical condition.
Born in the same département of Seine-Maritime in 1930 and ordained in 1958, Hamel spent most of his working life in north-west France, including more than 30 years at St-Étienne. He celebrated 50 years in the clergy in 2008.
After officially retiring at 75, he had asked to remain in the parish and continue to help when necessary, the archdiocese of Rouen said. “This man was a good man,” said the president of the regional council, Hervé Morin.
Parishioners said they were devastated by the murder. “My family have been here for 35 years and we have always known him,” the manager of a beauty parlour down the road from the church told L’Express magazine.
Hamel was “very discreet”, said the woman, who came to know him when she took catechism classes with him as a young girl. “He did not like to put himself forward. He was someone who was very much appreciated in the local community.”
Another neighbour told the magazine: “This was a man who did his job to the very end. He was old, but always available for everyone. He was a good priest. He had been here for many years; he lived in the rectory here. Many parishioners knew him very well.”
Moanda-Phuati told Libération of his shock. “I could not possibly imagine anything like this happening,” said the priest. “We have never received any threats.” The Vatican spoke of a “barbaric killing” and “horrific violence … in a church, a sacred place where the love of God is declared”.
Dominique Lebrun, the archbishop of Rouen, said in a statement from Krakow, where he was attending an international gathering of young Catholics, that he would be returning to France on Tuesday evening and would visit the parish.
“The Catholic church has no other arms than prayer and fraternity among men,” the bishop said. “I will leave behind here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, of true humanity. I ask them not to give up in the face of such violence and to become apostles for a civilisation of love.”