Hundreds of mourners crammed into Rouen Cathedral in northern France on Tuesday for the funeral of the elderly Roman Catholic priest knifed to death at a church altar by two Islamist militants.
Father Jacques Hamel was leading morning mass in the nearby industrial town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray last Tuesday when the attackers stormed in, forced the 85-year-old to his knees and slit his throat while chanting in Arabic.
A long procession of clergy, bishops and archbishops followed four pallbearers, who carried Hamel’s coffin into the thirteenth century gothic Cathedral through the “Door of Mercy” and placed it on an ornate rug before the altar.
Addressing the congregation, Roselyne Hamel recounted how during his military service in Algeria her brother had refused an officer’s grade so as not give the order to kill others, and how he once emerged the sole survivor in a desert shootout.
“He would often ask himself why me? Today, Jacques, our brother, your brother, you have your answer: Our God of love and mercy chose you to be at the service of others,” she said.
The service, which took place amid tight security, was to be followed by a private burial.
The attack was the first on a church in western Europe and came just 12 days after a Tunisian who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State drove his truck through a crowd of Bastille Day revellers in the Riviera city of Nice, killing 84 people.
Islamist militants have killed more than 200 people in France since January 2015. Facing strong criticism over its security record from right-wing opponents, the Socialist government has warned of a long war against militant Islam at home and abroad in countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said the State must reinvent its relationship with the ‘Islam of France’. France’s Muslim minority, the European Union’s largest, makes up about 8 percent of the population.