PARIS (Reuters) Pope Francis has put a French priest knifed to death at the altar by Islamist militants in July on the fast track to possible sainthood, the Archbishop of Rouen has said.
At a special mass designed to purify the church where 85-year-old the Rev. Jacques Hamel was killed, Archbishop Dominique Lebrun said on Sunday (Oct. 2) that Francis had set aside the period normally imposed after someone’s death before the process of beatification can start.
“Pope Francis has waived the five-year delay before a sainthood process can begin,” Lebrun told hundreds of people at the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, in northwest France.
Usually a miracle needs to have been declared for a candidate for sainthood to be beatified. But that requirement can be waived if there is evidence that the person died a martyr.
Asked about Lebrun’s remarks later Sunday, the pope told journalists on the papal flight back to Rome from his visit to Azerbaijan that it was not a formal move but a preliminary step.
“The intention is to go on this line, to make the necessary research and to see if there are the motives to do it” — that is, opening a process for sainthood, Francis said.
“Not losing the witnesses is really important, because the fresh witnesses are those who have seen the people,” he continued. “After a little bit of time, some die, some lose their memory.”
Last month, during a mass in memory of the dead priest, Francis used the words martyr or martyrdom 10 times in his homily at the Vatican.
In early July, two attackers stormed into the church in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, forced the elderly priest to his knees and slit his throat while they chanted in Arabic.
The priest’s murder by French citizens came just 12 days after a Tunisian who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State drove his truck through a crowd of Bastille Day revelers in Nice, killing 84.