Following the murder of Father Jacques Hamel in France by two Islamist extremists while he was celebrating Mass, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Rome in memory of the courageous priest. Although Father Hamel was well past retirement age, he had continued as an assistant priest to parishioners in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, the working-class town in Normandy where he had spent much of his life.
This is the text of Pope Francis’ homily at the memorial Mass.
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ. We understand that it is a mystery.
This mystery of annihilation, of closeness to us. Being in the condition of God, Paul says, [Jesus] does not hold on to a privilege of being like God, but emptied Himself, taking on the condition of servant, becoming similar to human beings. He humbled himself, and was obedient unto death, even until death on a Cross.
This is the mystery of Christ. This is a mystery. That is martyrdom for the salvation of men.
Jesus Christ is the first martyr, the first One Who gives his life for us. And from this mystery of Christ, begins the whole history of Christian martyrdom, from the early centuries until today.
The early Christians confessed Christ by paying with their lives. The early Christians who were asked to confess other gods, to say that “our god is true and not yours”, when they refused to do this, were crucified. This story is repeated through today. Today, in the Church, there are more martyrs than martyred Christians in the past.
Today, there are Christians martyred, tortured, slaughtered, because they do not deny Jesus Christ.
In this history, we get to our Father Jacques: he is part of this chain of martyrs. Christians who today suffer in prison, with death, torture, for not denying Jesus Christ, show precisely the cruelty of this persecution. This cruelty that asks for apostasy is – let’s say the word – satanic.
How much I would like that all the confessions would say: to kill in the name of God is satanic.
Father Jacques Hamel was slaughtered on the cross, just as he was celebrating the Sacrifice of Christ. A good, meek man, of brotherhood, who always was trying to make peace, was assassinated, as if he were a criminal. This is the thread of satanic persecution.
But there is one thing of this man who has accepted his martyrdom there, that makes me think so much about the martyrdom of Christ on the altar. One thing that makes me think so much …
In the midst of the difficult time that he lived, in the midst of this tragedy he saw coming, he did not lose the clarity of accusing and say the name of the assassin. And he clearly said: “Go away, Satan!”
He gave his life to not deny Jesus, gave his life in the same way Jesus [does] on the altar. And from there, he accused the author of persecution: “Go away, Satan!”
May this example of courage, along with the martyrdom of his life to empty himself to help others, help us to move forward without fear. We must pray, eh! He is a martyr, the martyrs are blessed …
We must pray he gives us brotherhood, meekness, peace, and even the courage to tell the truth: to kill in the name of God is satanic.