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French bishops call for day of prayer, fasting July 29

French priest Father Jacques Hamel, 84, was brutally murdered July 26 while celebrating Mass at his parish in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray. The bishops of France have called for a national day or prayer and fasting July 29 in response to the attack. (Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Rouen)

The bishops of France have called for a national day of prayer and fasting July 29, in response to the murderous attack on 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel at the hands of two self-proclaimed members of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The attack took place in the parish of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in the northern French Archdiocese of Rouen. The two assailants were killed by French police, and another victim is in critical condition.

In a statement posted Wednesday, Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the French bishops’ conference, said the brutal murder of the elderly priest was “unthinkable.”

“There are many feelings that we experience in these moments,” he wrote. “We know, however, that one, brotherhood, dear to our country, is the way that leads to lasting peace. Let’s build it together.”

The archbishop invited “all Catholics of France to a day of fasting and prayer for our country and for peace in the world this Friday, July 29.”

He also asked in particular that the 30,000 French pilgrims in Poland this week for World Youth Day pray the Way of the Cross with the intention of peace for France, and for the world.

“We follow Christ in his victory over hatred, revenge and death,” he concluded. “He is our light, and our hope.”

Be apostles of love

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, who was leading several groups totaling some 300 pilgrims to World Youth Day, left Krakow Tuesday to return to his home diocese after learning of the attack.

“I cry out to God with all men of good will,” he said in a statement made available by the World Youth Day Communications office. “I would invite non-believers to join in the cry!”

“The Catholic Church cannot take weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among men,” he said. “I leave here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the true ones. I ask them not to give in to the violence and become apostles of the civilization of love.”

In a press conference later that day in Krakow, Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, secretary general of the French bishops’ conference, said that the bishops of France want to “build the civilization of love, and that’s why we are here. We don’t want violence and hate to have the upper hand.”

The ‘spark of peace’

“Neither hate nor violence is a way out,” he continued. “We cannot surrender to these sentiments. Today young people from around the world rejoice, because of this love we can live in peace and fraternity.”

“I believe that World Youth Day needs to proceed with intensity and power so that the young people might indicate the path for the Church,” Msgr. Dumas said. “We should see the horizon of peace, joy, brotherhood and prayer.”

At the opening press conference on Monday evening, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow said, “We want to show to the youth the mystery of Divine Mercy and let them take from Krakow the idea of the ‘spark of peace.’ Now in Europe, we have a time of anxiety. Peace is endangered because of brutal terrorism. That is why we want to create an atmosphere of peace, reconciliation, solidarity, and kindness which from Krakow can take over the whole world.”

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