Father Hamel was born in 1930 in Darnetal, France. From a very early age, Father Hamel showed a true passion for serving the lord - at six he became a choirboy in Saint Paul's Church in Rouen and at ten years old knew his latin formulas at heart, often traveling with the parish priest to help in his duties after school. Four years later, at fourteen, he left school and entered minor seminary (his father preferred him to stay in school and become an engineer, his mother met the decision with joy).
At the age of twenty-two, Father Hamel's life took what we would consider a very dramatic turn that truely displayed the love he had for Christ and the Kingdom here on Earth. During his military service, Father Hamel was deployed to Algeria as an enlisted soldier (Famously, he told his sister he chose to serve as an enlisted soldier and not as an officer because he refused "to give the order to men to kill other men". Furthermore, his sister relayed the following story during his funeral:
“ He confided to me that during a shooting in an oasis, he had been the only survivor and he had often asked himself: 'Why me?' Today, Jacques, you have your answer: God has chosen you to be at the service of others. "
Jacques was officially ordained a Catholic priest at the age of twenty eight in Rouen, France. During the next fifty eight years of priesthood, the now Father Jacques Hamel would serve as vicar at Saint Antoine church in Le Petit-Quevilly, a vicar at Notre-Dame de Lourdes church in Sotteville-les-Rouen, a parish priest in Saint-Pierre-les-Elbeuf, and a parish priest in Cleon. At Cleon, Father Hamel began to consider retirement, but accepted the position of parish priest at Sain-Etienne-du-Rouvray in 2000. Instead of retiring, he handed the position to a younger priest in 2005 and continued as the auxiliary priest. Father Pierre Belhache (the newly arrived parish priest) would say:
“I was still a 'young' priest, let's say a young adult, and when you work with a brother so deeply invested and for so long in his mission, it commands respect.”
During this time, Father Hamel was extremely active in the community still and had worked tirelessly beginning in 2015 on an interfaith committee that reached out to other local religious leaders. The president of the regional council of muslim worship of the upper normandy region, Imam Mohammed Karabila noted:
“He is someone who gave his life for others. In the mosque we are stunned. We were part of a interfaith committee founded 18 months ago, we debated religion and coexistence together."
A month before the nightmarish acts were committed, the father had just penned a message in the parish letter:
“May we, at these times, hear God's invitation to take care of this world, to make it, where we live, a warmer, more human, more fraternal world. "
Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean
For the events to come, some background is needed.
Adel Kermiche was born in Algeria before living with his family in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in a housing project. Born to a doctor father and professor mother, the family had high hopes and alerted French authorities when they began to notice the growing radicalisation in their son. Twice Adel attempted to enter Syria to join the newly proclaimed "Islamic State" and had been arrested twice before returning to France. In prison, the judge granted an early release against the wishes of the French prosectution. Writings found later would show that Adel had met a "spiritual guide" in prison that gave him ideas including bomb plots.
Abdel Malik Petitjean, also born in Algeria, lived with his mother and two sisters in the town of Aix-les-Bains. Described as a gentleman, his interests included watching movies, playing video games and boxing. Hakim a friend, would tell the bbc:
"It is hard to believe. He was against Daesh, He was not radical at all".
French Security services however, had been watching him since an aborted attempt to enter Syria through Turkey. On July 22, French security units were given a note detailing a likely terrorist attack soon with his image, but no name. He informed his mother he was going to visit a cousin in Nancy, but instead met Adel at his apartment in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. He final recorded words was a text message sent to his mother:
"Don't worry, everything is fine... I love you."
July 26 2016
On July 26, Father Belhache was on vacation, leaving Father Hamel to perform the daily mass. The two men, Adel and Abdel, entered the church at 9:45 and took Father Hamel, three nuns and two parishioners hostage. The two men filmed a sermon in Arabic on the altar, forcing the hostages to watch. At the end of the sermon, they forced Father Hamel to his knees and placed a large knife to his throat.
Father Hamel shouted "Go Away Satan!" and had his throat slit by the jihadists. The 86 year old parishioner who had been forced to film the murder by the jihadists then himself was critically stabbed. During this killing, one of the nuns was able to escape the building and alert local police. The other two nuns were forced to listen to rants about the Koran and the war in Syria.
At about 10:45 am, the two jihadists forced the remaining hostages outdoors and charged at police shouting "Allahu akbar" and were shot dead by officers.
The day of the murder as information came out, several public figures called immedaitely for sainthood (including Roberto Maroni, the president of Lombardy". Other figures, including the press, began calling immediately Father Hamel a martyr. By August, the archbishop of Rouen stated publically that while he believes the Father to be a martyr, that he could only start the procedure in the Catholic Church to formally recognize him. The archbishop of Sydney said he died in odium fidei stating:
"This is the term Catholics use to describe the characteristic death of a martyr, as one who dies for his or her faith, and because of that faith"
Later that year in September, Pope Frances celebrated mass and hailed Father Hamel as a martyr and declared him blessed, also saying
"To kill in the name of God is satanic" and recalled that Jesus Chris was "The first martyr, the first who gave his life for us. From this mystery of Christ begins the whole history of Christian martyrdom, from the first centuries to this day."
He recalled Father Hamel "had his throat cut on the cross, precisely when he was celebrating the sacrifice of Cross of Christ. He was a good man, meek, brotherly, who always sought to make peace but he was assassinated as if he were a criminal".
“Father Hamel gave his life for us, he gave his life to not deny Jesus. He gave his life in the same sacrifice of Jesus on the altar, and from there he accused the author of the persecution: ‘Go away Satan!’”
After the homily, Pope Francis turned to the archbishop of Rouen and told him:
“You can expose the photo of Father Jacques in the church since he is blessed. And, if anyone questions this, you respond that the pope has authorized it!”
In closing, Father Hamel embodied the great words of Saint Francis Assisi :
La ou il y a la haine, que je mette l'amour.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.