Pope puts priest whose throat slit by Isil on road to sainthood
Pope Francis has put the French priest knifed to death by Islamist militants on the road to sainthood, saying Fr Jacques Hamel was a martyr.
The Pope spoke at a special Mass for pilgrims from the Rouen area of France where two attackers stormed into the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, forced the 85-year-old Hamel to his knees and slit his throat while they chanted in Arabic.
He also called on all religions to declare that "killing in the name of God is Satanic".
Fr Hamel's relatives, members of his and the Rouen bishop attended the intimate Mass in Francis' hotel chapel.
In his homily, Pope Francis lamented the persecution of Christians today and denounced Fr Hamel's slaying as the "satanic thread of persecution."
The Pope recalled that, before being killed, Fr Hamel cried out to his killers: "Satan, get out!"
"This example of courage, and the martyrdom of one's own life, to give everything of oneself to help others, to make brotherhood among others, helps all of us to go forward without fear," Francis said.
Pope Francis used the words martyr or martyrdom 10 times during his homily.
"He (Hamel) accepted his martyrdom there on the altar," the Pope said. "He gave his life for us so as not to deny Jesus. He is a martyr and martyrs are beatified."
Beatification is one of the first steps in the complex process that leads to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
Usually a miracle is needed for a candidate for sainthood to be beatified. But that requirement can be waived if there is evidence that the person died a martyr.
"A good, humble man, a man of brotherhood who always sought to make peace, was assassinated as if he were a criminal," Pope Francis said. He ordered that a picture of the murdered priest be placed on the altar during the Mass.
The Catholic Church posthumously confers sainthood on people considered so holy during their lives that they are now believed to be with God and can intercede with him to perform miracles.
In another indication that the Pope believes Fr Hamel is already on the way to sainthood, the archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, said afterwards that the Pope had told him Fr Hamel should be "venerated," an honour usually bestowed only after a sainthood procedure begins.
Fr Hamel's killing came as France's political leaders sought to defeat Islamist violence.
His murder by French citizens was the first Islamist attack on a church in western Europe and came just 12 days after a Tunisian who had pledged allegiance to Isil killed 84 people with his truck on Bastille Day in Nice.