In his homily at a Mass for the repose of the soul of Fr Jacques Hamel, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, a theologian and member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the priest “died in odium fidei, that is in hatred of the faith”.
“This is a 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,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Fisher welcomed the solidarity shown by French Jewish and Muslim organisations, and said the murder was an attack on France, on civilisation and all religion.
But he added: “We cannot ignore the fact that it is also a targeted attack on our Christian faith. The two terrorists meant to go into a Catholic church. They meant to kill a priest of Jesus Christ. They meant to take nuns and faithful laity as hostages. They were not just looking for any old building with any old people inside.
“And the terrorists underlined the meaning of their act by engaging in a ritual sacrifice of the priest before the altar and a mock homily. So their act was not just murder but also sacrilege, desecration, blasphemy. Their motive not just revenge for the policies of the secular French government, but hatred for the Church and its priests and religious and faithful, even when they are demonstrably friends of Muslims, as Fr Jacques was.”
Archbishop Fisher noted that Fr Jacques’ church was called St Stephen’s after the first martyr of the early Church, and said that Fr Jacques “died in the same spirit” of devotion to Jesus.
Meanwhile, the French episcopate denounced the killings and called for solidarity in the face of conflict.
The Archbishop of Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, has said Catholics should “overcome hatred” and to shun “the game” which ISIS wants to play setting “children of the same family in opposition to each other”.
Mgr Olivier Ribadeau-Dumas, secretary general of the French bishops’ conference, said that “violence and hatred will not get the upper hand”.
Archbishop Georges Pontier, president of the bishops’ conference, said the murder “shocked us, it touched us, and revolted us.”
The French bishops have declared Friday a day of prayer and fasting. The chief rabbi of France, Haïm Korsia, has said he too will fast on Friday.
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, has called for reform of French Muslim institutions, especially those which train clerics.
At World Youth Day, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, asked pilgrims to pray for “all the victims of recent terror attacks and especially for the priest who was killed today.”
At his homily at the opening Mass, Archbishop Dziwisz said: “We bring our fears and disappointments, but also our hopes and yearning, our desire to live in a more human, more fraternal and solidarity world.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, tweeted: “I pray for the repose of his soul and those affected by the murderous assault …Together with Muslim leaders we pray for courage to respond to all evil with truth, justice, and reconciliation.”
On Radio 4’s Today programme, Fr Christopher Jamison argued that churches should not respond by adopting high-security measures. He said that during the Year of Mercy, “Doors of Mercy have been erected to show anyone can walk through this door and know that God’s love is present, and that is the attitude we must maintain.”