French church to reopen after priest killed in IS group attack

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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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)