Homily of Don Marco Gnavi, pastor of Santa Maria in Trastevere, at the Prayer on July 29th, in communion with the Church of France, after the attack in wchih father Jacques Hamel was killed.
Genesis 9, 1-7
Tonight, here in Santa Maria in Trastevere and wherever the Community of Sant’Egidio is present in Europe, we want to unite ourselves with the Church of France and its people, in this day of prayer and fasting to collect the memories of father Jacques Hamel, 86 year-old pastor whose life was brutally taken away from him while he was celebrating in his parish of St. Etienne du Rouvreay, in the small town of Rouen.
Our invocation is like a cry that rises to God, filled with pain and astonishment: a good man, wise and elderly, was killed by young hands, drenched in an ideology of death, captured by a fascination of violence. A priest, son of a spiritually great Church, who gave so much to the universal Church, which thanks to the strength of his commitment to the Gospel, of his wisdom, and his gentle and tenacious love for life, does not give into the intimidation of fear, of wall, and of clashes. As gentle and tenacious as the life of Father Jacques who built and invested in his life to the service and openness to others, as he demonstrated concretely with the imam of the mosque next door. With great courage, Cardinal Vingt Trois preached at Notre Dame in Paris, questioning God himself, in moments of the greatest suffering or bewilderment, when His power and love are put up for discussion. C. Trois found, thanks to the hope that Father Jacques transmitted in his ministry, young Christians, wounded by the persecution of Christians, but gathered around Pope Francis in Krakow, that gave him the energy not to succumb to hatred, to the temptation of nihilism, or to the force of death. In front of collective fears, the erosion of collective good, he evoked a response of faith, without alluding to the dramatic questions of the fate of humanity. Monsignor Pontier, responded to the brutal assassination saying “only fraternity, so dear to our country, is the path that will lead to a lasting peace. Let us build it together.”
There is a common vision and interior strength between these pastors and the elderly priest of Rouen, that do not accept to live without serving, to preach without actively being themselves testimonies to a universal opening of the Church, to the human encounter, in prayer, and the building of bridges towards other. He had written, not long before the summer, this is “a time to be respectful of other, whoever they may be.” and he had asked “pray for those who are the most in need, for peace, and for living better together.”
Andrea Riccardi compared the violent death of father Jacques to that of brother Roger, stabbed to death during a vesper prayer at Taizé, who asserted “we have never wanted to see it here in Europe, but it has happened. It is a gesture that exposes the inhumanity of terrorists and of there complete lack of religious sense, which instead is found in many Muslims who have respect for all ‘men of God,’ and prayer. Young, foolish, and hooked on the totalitarian ideology of hate and of the propaganda of the Daesh, they carried out this bloody act. It is a hateful exhibition of brutal violence, the expression of a primal desire to terrorize the French in order to push them to respond in rash ways.”
France has suffered a lot, and the cuts are deep. The attacks of January 7th an November 13th in 2015 and the attack on July 14th this year at Nice, which stained the national holiday with blood for all: a day otherwise full of joy for many families, children, teenagers, and elderly. To the Ambassador of the Republic of France to the Holy See, the Distributor of Business at the Quirinal, the Ambassador at the FAO – whom we greet and thank greatly for their presence here with us tonight – we renew not only our solidarity and our proximity, but also our firm commitment to eradicate hate mechanisms and remove all places subject to the powers of evil.
In the book of Genesis, the blessing of God on Noah – and through him onto all of humanity, marked by the storm and saved from a destiny of pride and incomprehension – appears life, the triumph of life, accompanied by a warning, “from your blood, or better from your life, I will require, of every living thing, I will demand to know about man to man living, between each one and his brothers.”
The blood of man, his life is sacred because the Lord and the Church takes responsibility for the life of everyone. The blood of father Jacques, together with that of so many innocents, asks, actually cries, not vendetta, but rather peace, an interior revolt against hatred, which simultaneously demonstrates the greatness of men and women marked by the Gospel. Their humanity is filled with passion and love and not even death can crack that faith. Not even the death on the cross of the Lord Jesus cracked his faith in life, in the Father, his faith in the conversion of humans to love. For this reason we must pray, united and together. For the protection of the innocent, for the conversion of the savage, and that an entire generation not go lost in the abyss of hatred. That men like father Jacques come up in every generation and that our world not abandon itself. That from the open doors of the church you may
see, even in martyrdom, the light of hope shine stronger than that of death. Amen