Treasure to community and martyr to his faith
Dedicated to the last, 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel devoted his life to his parishioners, continuing to serve despite retiring a decade ago.
Calls mounted yesterday for him to be put on the fast-track to sainthood. Roberto Maroni, an Italian politician, said: "Father Jacques is a martyr of faith." He urged Pope Francis to "immediately proclaim him St Jacques", as the hashtag 'santosubito', or 'saint immediately', circulated online.
Many residents of St Etienne-du-Rouvray who had grown up with the unassuming, respected priest were in shock at the brutal murder of such a gentle man. He was born in the Rouen area and ordained in 1958.
"My family has lived here for 35 years and we have always known him," said Eulalie Garcia, manager of a beauty parlour, who took catechism classes with him. "He was someone who was treasured by the community. He was very discreet and didn't like to draw attention to himself," she added.
One neighbour told weekly French magazine 'L'Express': "This was a man who did his job to the very end. He was old, but always available for everyone. He was a good priest. He had been here for many years; he lived in the rectory here. Many parishioners knew him well."
Despite his retirement, he still officiated regularly in St Etienne-du-Rouvray, stepping in when regular priest Auguste Moanda-Phuati was absent. Mohammed Karabila, a Muslim community leader, who runs the town mosque, said he was "aghast" at the death of his friend. "He was someone who gave his life to others. At the mosque, we are stunned."
Canonisation is a lengthy process requiring two miracles, but only one is needed for a martyr, after beatification. The Vatican must first declare the person died for the faith.
A statement from the archdiocese of Rouen said: "This man was a good man."
French newspaper 'Le Figaro' reported the church was suspected to have been on a list of Catholic places of worship drawn up as possible targets by Sid Ahmed Ghlam, an Algerian student arrested last year on suspicion of murdering a mother-of-one.