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Legacy of cleric, not his killers, will endure

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 28/07/2016

Fr Jacques Hamel celebrating a Mass last month
Fr Jacques Hamel celebrating a Mass last month

The murder of a priest in France by Islamic extremists becomes even more horrific today as our exclusive report reveals the sort of person he was, and of his links to Northern Ireland.

Now he is no longer a total stranger to us, but someone we can identify with. Perhaps he even reminds us of a clergyman we already know.

Fr Jacques Hamel was 86, frail in appearance, and was made to kneel on his altar by two knifeman and listen to a rant in Arabic before one of the terrorists cut his throat in front of terrified hostages.

This is the sort of barbarism we have come to expect from Islamic terrorists, who neither value their own lives nor those of anyone else.

What a sharp contrast these religious fanatics present in comparison to Fr Hamel, as described to us by Fr Mark Nolan, prior of the Benedictine Monastery at Rostrevor, who knew him.

The words humble, caring, Christian and kind are used to paint a picture of a clergyman who was popular with so many parishioners. That perhaps is his greatest accolade. His flock loved him, and asked him to perform family and community celebrations.

But the most astonishing fact to emerge is that the Church authorities in that area of Normandy gave land to local Muslims to enable them to build a mosque, and were also allowed to use other parish facilities for prayer meetings.

Given the events of Tuesday, many Christians will be asking themselves how a faith and a priest who had reached out so selflessly to those of another religion can then be the target of terrorists claiming justification through that religion.

Fr Hamel was a man who wanted harmony between faiths, who preached the need for peace, and whose life was cruelly ended by people whose only motivation was hatred and a desire to create dissent and sectarian strife.

In the wake of such horror it is natural there should be strident calls for an all-out war on terror, but such talk is dangerous, as once the scent of revenge gets into the air there is no certainty where or how it may develop.

As we in Northern Ireland know, the example of those who reach out the hands of friendship to each other endures longer than that of those intent on division. That is not to turn the other cheek, for a stern security response is needed against the terrorists spreading their evil tentacles across Europe. But we will remember Fr Hamel long after we forget the men of evil.

Belfast Telegraph

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