Catholic parishioners in a small town in northern France are gathering on Sunday for the solemn reopening of a church where a priest was murdered by teenage jihadists this summer.
The Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray church near the city of Rouen held a special penitential mass to mark the occasion and pay tribute to Father Jacques Hamel.
The 85-year-old priest had his throat slit at the foot of the altar on July 26 in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
“He was a good priest. I always went to see him and he never refused to be of service,” said 81-year-old Mafalda Pace, who lives just next door to the 16th-century church.
The killing of Father Hamel shocked France and came on the heels of the Bastille Day attack that claimed 86 lives in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
Sunday’s rite in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray is designed to wipe away the desecration of the church at the hands of jihadists Adel Kermiche, a local man, and Abdel-Malik Petitjean, both of whom were shot dead by police following a siege.
“The rite consists of ‘cleansing’ the church through the sprinkling of holy water,” said Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun.
In a show of inter-faith solidarity, Muslims and Jews were among the mourners on that occasion.
“It will be a day of brotherhood… I hope that all local people will be there, believers or not,” Mohamed Karabila, representing the local mosque, told AFP.
A giant screen has been set up to allow people who cannot fit into the church to follow the service outside.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)