ROUEN, France (Christian Examiner) – The last words of the Catholic priest murdered by two jihadists before the altar in a Catholic Church in France July 26 were, "Be gone, Satan!", Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told mourners at the priest's funeral earlier this week.
Thousands of mourners packed the Rouen Cathedral while many more waited outside in the rain as the archbishop described the last minutes of Father Jacques Hamel's life, the French newspaper L'Express reported.
Lebrun said Hamel had been confronted by evil and died an unjust death.
"Evil is a mystery. It reaches summits of horror far beyond what is considered human. Is that not what you meant, Jacques, by your last words? After the first stabbing [of the knife] you fell to the ground and you tried to push away your attacker with your feet, saying, 'Be gone, Satan.' [Then] you repeat: 'Be gone, Satan.'"
Hamel's throat was cut by one of the jihadists after they burst into the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during the morning hours of prayer. The men forced Hamel, 84, who was retired but filling in for a vacationing colleague, to kneel and "perform a sermon in Arabic," one witness said, before he was killed.
But Hamel had the last word.
His attackers reportedly filmed themselves killing the priest. It is not known if that video was uploaded to the Internet before police arrived and shot and killed the jihadists as they exited the church. The video of the incident at least has not been made public yet.
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Hamel's wooden casket was carried through the "Door of Mercy" at the Rouen Cathedral and placed beside the altar there.
His sister, Roselyne Hamel, spoke of his life before entering the priesthood. He had served in Algeria with the French military, but refused to take the rank of an officer because he would have been required to issue orders to kill. His sister said he was once the survivor of a desert battle.
"He would often ask himself: 'Why me?' Today, Jacques, our brother, your brother, you have your answer: Our God of love and mercy chose you to be at the service of others," she said.
"He chose to serve God so that he could cultivate love and sharing and tolerance among people of all faiths and denominations, believers and non-believers, throughout his life," she added.
Lebrun told Hamel's sister and other family members that the path laid before them was a difficult one, but he said the priest lived the sacrifice of Jesus Christ faithfully as "the devil put his claws in."
Lebrun urged the community to learn to forgive in the midst of the type of hatred expressed by the jihadists. At the beginning of the funeral, Lebrun also spoke to the Muslim community in France.
"You who are tormented by diabolical violence, you who are drawn to kill by a demonic, murderous madness, pray to God to free you from the devil's grip. ... We pray for you, we pray to Jesus who healed all those who were under the power of evil."