The cold-blooded murder of 86-year-old Fr Jacques Hamel in a sixteenth-century church in Normandy by an Algerian-born youth has rattled Catholics around the world. How dare those people walk into our churches and trample all over us? Yet Pope Francis reminds us that the war crime, committed on French soil only two weeks after the Nice attack, is not an attack on religion. Instead, as President Hollande reminds us, it is an attack on the national identity of France.
This specific national identity takes us back to the reign of King Louis Philippe who, in 1830, was in his view called by God to liberate Algeria from its miscreant mores and revive its Christian heritage. As Roman ruins were found, the first Bishop of Algiers, Antoine-Adolphe Dupuch rejoiced in his mission to turn Algeria into a springboard for the re-Christianisation of the entire African continent. Early on, Bishop Dupuch’s mission was hampered by the French military establishment, whose secular worldview emphasised economics at the expense of culture. His successor, the infamous Bishop Louis-Antoine Pavy, was met with the same resistance.
The rise of Arab nationalism in the post World War II era led to the disintegration of French willpower in 1962, when the war was lost. Suddenly, Algeria’s Judeo-Christian heritage was virtually annihilated, with most historic synagogues and churches repurposed as mosques. By 1996, in the midst of the Algerian Civil War, seven monks at the Tibhirine Monastery were brutally murdered by miscreants. A few months later, Pierre Claverie, the Bishop of Oran, was assassinated. None of these victims have been beatified by the Vatican.
Meanwhile, the Algerian Civil War was brought to mainland France in run-down Modernist buildings on the outskirts of French cities. By the 1990s, left-wing politicians decided to break up the banlieues and re-house Algerians in traditionally Catholic French villages. These newcomers had no anchor in traditional French culture; their traditions were foreign.
Political correctness and cultural relativism have failed to address the extent of the problem. While many French people have emigrated to foreign shores like England in what may be described as a cultural exile, the Algerian-French community has reshaped French culture. It may not be too late to revive France’s Judeo-Christian heritage and Catholic traditions, but waiting is no longer an option.
A good place to start would be to canonise Fr Jacques Hamel as St Jacques. While the Vatican can certainly play an official role, the French government ought to recognise its culture as traditionally Judeo-Christian. In short, a cultural renaissance needs to be facilitated by the state. Until then, all we can do is pray for the martyrs of a bygone era.