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Normandy church where Fr Hamel was murdered by ISIS reopens

Residents pay tribute at a makeshift memorial in front of the Saint Etienne church where Priest Jacques Hamel was killed in July (AP)

The Normandy church where Islamic extremists cut a priest’s throat and used nuns as human shields reopened on Sunday for the first time since the attack, with a special cleansing ritual and call for tolerance across religions.

The Archbishop of Rouen led a procession through the nearby town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray to the Catholic church where two 19-year-old radicals killed 85-year-old priest Fr Jacques Hamel on July 26 as he celebrated Mass on a quiet summer weekday.

ISIS group claimed responsibility for the attack, in which two nuns and an elderly couple were held hostage before the assailants slashed the priest’s throat and seriously wounded the other man. Another nun slipped away and raised the alarm, and police fatally shot both attackers as they left the church.

Mayor Hubert Wulfrance said Fr Hamel’s memory “prevails over this so special moment, split between endless emotion and hope in the future.”

“We bear the tragedy of this July 26, 2016, as an indelible scar on our common history, our national history,” he said to a crowd that included local Muslims invited to take part in the community event.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun said the mayor’s words “bolster us in the desire to participate in the common life of your city and of the world, so we will not repeat the tragedy of (drowned Syrian refugee boy) Aylan nor the tragedy of Jacques Hamel.”

Archbishop Lebrun led a penitential rite to restore the sacred nature of the church, followed by a Mass attended by parishioners and other residents, including the head of the regional Muslim council and a local imam.

Muslims in France and Italy attended Mass the weekend after the attack to show tolerance and solidarity. The attack was one of several targeting France over the past two years claimed by ISIS extremists.

During the Mass, Archbishop Lebrun said the Dioceses of Rouen had begun an inquiry into the beatification of Fr Hamel, after Pope Francis waived the traditional five-year waiting period.

The Pope confirmed to reporters he had sped up the process for recognising Fr Hamel as a saint on his way home from Azerbaijan later on Sunday.

Pope Francis honoured Fr Hamel in a Vatican Mass last month, calling him a martyr and urging all people of faith to have the courage to denounce killing in the name of religion as “satanic.” Francis said the priest was already considered a “blessed” — the first step to possible sainthood.