The news was broken to French pilgrims in Krakow, as many as 36 thousand – arrived to attend the WYD – by President Francois Hollande, who informed the president of the French Episcopal Conference (CEF) Monsignor Georges Pontier, archbishop of Marseille. The slaughter of Father Jacques Hamel, 86, parish priest in the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, Normandy, and the wounding of several faithful, shattered all French nationals present in that moment at 13, Pedzichow street. Among them figured the archbishop of Rouen, Monsignor Dominique Lebrun, who convened all the youths in his diocese. Sister Nathalie Becquart, Director of the CEF National Service for Evangelization of youths, and Vocations, provided an account to SIR. “We are terribly upset; after Msgr. Lebrun informed us we contacted his youth group, some 300 young people, along with all the dioceses. The archbishop departed from Krakow shortly after, to return to France and be close to his faithful. Before leaving he called upon his youths to remain silent, to pray and have faith to live in full the WYD celebrations, and to honour the memory of Father Hamel”, she said. The invitation was promptly followed and the chapel was soon filled with young people. For French pilgrims in Krakow prayer is the answer to violence, as underlined by Solange, from Brittany, wrapped in her national blue, white, and red flag:
“The WYD is also prayer. We shall pray for all the victims of terrorism in the world and for our murdered priest.”
Responding with mercy. Also Monsignor Denis Moutel, bishop of Saint-Brieuc, in Brittany, president of the CEF Commission for Youth Ministry, is “disconcerted.” With a broken voice, he paid tribute to the brutally murdered priest: “He was a humble person who devoted his entire life to others, and especially to young people. It’s a horrifying act of violence perpetrated during a Mass celebrated for the few faithful present.” Yet, despair is followed by hope and fortitude.
“The message is that we must not draw back from the WYD, from the joy of this gathering. In fact, we must live this experience with a stronger faith, bearing witness to fraternity and praying for peace”, affirmed Mons. Moutel.
There is goodness and beauty in our hearts. We are seeing it here in Krakow, in the meetings of youths from world countries. We respond to violence with mercy. In these hours we want to show our solidarity with the church in Rouen. Father Hamel has given his life to young people, and for him we should continue to carry out our mission.”
“Do not lose heart.” In the premises of the school where are housed French-speaking pilgrims in Krakow, there is a continual coming and going of young people, handshakes accompany the new arrivals, but joy is inevitably contained. It is yet another form of respect shown by the youths. They are welcomed with a smile by Monsignor Georges Pontier, CEF president. He said: “The news was broken to me by President Hollande. My first reaction was to ask if it had truly happened. This death was unimaginable. An 86-year-old priest who devoted his entire life to bearing witness to the love of Christ.” “But we must not lose heart”, reiterated the archbishop of Marseille.
“The French people must remain united in the face of this challenge; amid its ethnic and religious diversity, in mutual trust and understanding.”
These are the values that ensure the triumph which remains, alongside with prayer, the only path that brings us away from violence.” The reflection of Mons. Pontier was also addressed to the youths who arrived to Krakow from war zones such as Syria, Iraq, and Africa. “The celebrations must go on”, reiterated the prelate. “Now we need to nourish our faith, and its nourishment consists in the mercy that is embodied in episodes such as the one occurred today. It sounds like a warning to assume our responsibility to act and live with mercy. This is the time to build bridges, not walls. May Europe rediscover her Christian roots and the values of brotherhood and hospitality. Italy in this respect is carrying out great and admirable work.