“I will work until my last breath,” Father Jacques Hamel recently told a fellow priest, who encouraged the octogenarian to retire. And indeed, Father Hamel did work until his last breath—and his last breath was taken just before an Islamist militant cut his throat in the middle of Mass Tuesday.
As has been widely reported, the latest jihadist attack on the West has hit a quiet Catholic church in Normandy, France, taking the life of 84-year-old Father Hamel and seriously injuring a parishioner who was in attendance at the morning Mass. As reported by the French newspaper Le Figaro, RTL contacted the pastor of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, a Congolese priest who was on vacation in his home country but was on his way back to Normandy after the attack.
“He is a brave priest for his age,” said Father Augustus Moanda-Phuati. “The priests have the right to retire at age 75 and he he still felt strong. He said ‘there are not enough priests’ and therefore since he could still serve, he preferred to remain and continue working.”
Breitbart reported that an arrest has been made following the attack. “French police said the man held in custody was connected to the terrorist who has so far only been identified as ‘AK’, who was the killer already known to security services and wearing an electronic tracking device,” Breitbart said.
The Saint-Etienne du Rouvray church attacked this morning was on a terror list found on the computer of Sid Ahmed Ghlam in April 2015, according to a report by Britain’s Sun.
Father Moanda-Phuati called Father Hamel “a good priest who was always serving people practically all his life. We could not imagine that it could happen this way.”
He described Father Hamel as “warm, simple and modest living.”
Another priest in the same deanery, Father Aime Remi Mputu Amba, pastor of Sotteville-lès-Rouen, recalled that whenever Father Hamel came into the room for meetings, “it was always a ray of sunshine.”
“Despite his advanced age, he was still invested in the life of the parish. I often told him, jokingly, ‘Jacques, it’s time to take your pension.’ What he always answered, laughing: ‘Have you ever seen a retired pastor? I will work until my last breath.'”
In a letter to parishioners in June, Father Hamel wrote, “May we hear … God’s invitation to take care of this world to make it, where we live , warmer, more human, more fraternal.”
Meanwhile, a local Islamic leader called Father Hamel a “man of peace.”
“Our religious communities often worked together. Eighteen months ago, at the beginning of the attacks in France, we had meetings in the interfaith committee, and we communicate a lot,” said Mohammed Karabila, president of the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith Normandy describing Father Hamel as” a man of peace and faith, with a certain charisma, a person who dedicated his life to his ideas and religion.”
Said Karabila, “He sacrificed his life for others.”