Father Jacques Hamel

Would Americans be interested? Eyewitnesses describe the murder of Father Jacques Hamel

Would Americans be interested? Eyewitnesses describe the murder of Father Jacques Hamel

Here is my question for the day: Would news consumers here in America be interested in the ongoing story of Father Jacques Hamel if offered a chance to follow it?

There has been quite a bit of recent news about Hamel, the French priest murdered in July while celebrating Mass at the parish of St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray -- a Catholic church named in honor of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen. You can follow these developments by reading news reports produced on the other side of the Atlantic or in Catholic publications. Click here for previous GetReligion posts on earlier coverage.

I realize that this drama is unfolding in Europe. Thus, American editors and producers may assume that it is not a story that would interest readers here. Frankly, I think the details are so gripping that this has become a story that, at the very least, all Catholics would want to follow -- along with other readers who are concerned about acts of terrorism by jihadists.

So what are the new developments? The first is rather obvious, as reported by The Guardian:

Pope Francis has authorised the French church to start the preliminary sainthood investigation for the Reverend Jean Hamel, whose throat was slit by Islamist militants as he celebrated Mass in July.
Francis told reporters ... he had authorized the gathering of witness testimony to determine if a beatification cause is warranted. Usually the Vatican requires a five-year waiting period before such investigations can begin, but Francis said he authorised the start of the investigation now since witnesses might die or forget over time.
Hamel was killed on 26 July in his parish church in Normandy. Police killed the assailants, and the Isis group claimed responsibility. In honoring Hamel as a martyr last month, Francis urged all to display the same courage Hamel had and denounced such slayings in the name of God as “satanic”.

This announcement came on the same day that the sanctuary in which Hamel was killed was open for the first time, following purification rites because of the bloodshed at the altar.

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Your weekend think piece: Doing the math (think demographics) in post-Christian Europe

Your weekend think piece: Doing the math (think demographics) in post-Christian Europe

Just when you thought it was impossible to find another new layer of meaning in the brutal murder of Father Jacques Hamel, who was slaughtered at the altar of a French church dedicated to the memory of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen, columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times dug a bit deeper.

This Sunday piece ran under this headline: "The Meaning of a Martyrdom." In it, Douthat -- a pro-Catechism Catholic, to one of my own pushy labels -- reflects on the current debates about whether Hamel was or was not a martyr for the Catholic faith. This also happened to be the topic of my Universal syndicate column this past week. Click here to check that out.

But in the midst of that discussion, Douthat made this blunt observation, noting that Europe, and our world today in general:

... is not actually quite what 1960s-era Catholicism imagined. The come-of-age church is, in the West, literally a dying church: As the French philosopher Pierre Manent noted, the scene of Father Hamel’s murder -- “an almost empty church, two parishioners, three nuns, a very old priest” -- vividly illustrates the condition of the faith in Western Europe.
The broader liberal order is also showing signs of strain. The European Union, a great dream when Father Hamel was ordained a priest in 1958, is now a creaking and unpopular bureaucracy, threatened by nationalism from within and struggling to assimilate immigrants from cultures that never made the liberal leap.

This reminded me of a sobering Catholic News Agency piece that ran recently at Crux about a blast of statistics from Catholic pews, pulpits and altars in postmodern Germany. To be blunt about it, Catholicism in Germany is not producing new babies or new believers, according to findings released by the German bishops' conference.

Check this out:

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One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

Do you remember that old journalism parable, the one about the cynical poster that is supposedly hanging in a wire-service newsroom somewhere?

The poster, supposedly, explains how the U.S. press covers disasters, in terms of the number of deaths. To be blunt: 1,000 people dead in Afghanistan equals 500 dead in Egypt, which equals 250 dead in Mexico, which equals 100 dead in Japan, which equals 50 dead in France, which equals 25 dead in Canada, which equals 10 dead in Texas, which equals one celebrity/politician dead in Hollywood or Washington, D.C. Or words to that effect.

So why is the death of one Catholic priest at an altar in rural France so symbolic? Why were we still talking about Father Jacques Hamel on this week's Crossroads podcast? (Click here to tune that in.)

I thought of that when I read this summary material in an interesting report at FoxNews.com:

In 2015, more than 2,000 Christian churches in Africa were attacked by terrorists, and more than 7,000 Christians were killed, according to the advocacy group Open Doors USA. Those figures show terrorist groups like ISIS, which claimed credit for Tuesday's attack, as well as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram, will not hesitate to kill inside a house of worship.
"News of the murdered priest in Normandy has shaken many to the core,” David Curry, president and CEO of Christian Watchdog group Open Doors USA told FoxNews.com. “While in Nigeria, an average of five churches are attacked every Sunday, this is the first documented case of Western Christians being attacked by ISIS during a worship service."

Five churches attacked every Sunday. In Africa, that would include Catholics, but also Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostal believers and others. The story notes that, in 2015 alone, 2,400-plus Christian churches were struck by terrorists in Africa. Yes, many of those attacks were by forces aligned with Boko Haram and, thus, the wider Islamic State.

That's a lot of desecrated churches. There must be thousands of victims and eyewitnesses to these scenes of hellish violence. Are we hearing those voices in our newspapers and on our 24/7 digital screens? Are we seeing those images?

Not very often. Yet the death of Father Hamel is part of that ongoing story around the world. That's story No. 2. for those with the eyes to see.

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What. It. All. Means. Symbolic details in a priest's death in parish named for St. Stephen

What. It. All. Means. Symbolic details in a priest's death in parish named for St. Stephen

In the aftermath of the murder of Father Jacques Hamel, there are two stories unfolding in France and, to a lesser degree, the rest of postmodern and post-Christian Europe. Let me stress that both stories are valid and deserve coverage.

One story is about the crime itself and the investigation into how it happened. At the heart of this story is the official dilemma facing the powers that be in government, which is how to stop as many terrorist acts as possible before they happen. The symbolic detail: One of the attackers -- 19-year-old Adel Kermiche -- was a known ISIS ally who was already wearing a monitoring device around his ankle.

The other story, of course, is a religion story. It is about an attack on a Catholic parish -- St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray -- named in honor of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen, a connection I have only seen mentioned in the Catholic press. At the heart of this story is the murder of the elderly Father Jacques Hamel, who -- during Mass -- was forced to kneel at the church altar, where the attackers slit his throat. The terrorists critically injured one nun and tried to use other nuns as human shields, before police were able to kill the attackers.

The symbolic details in this story? If you want more on that, may I suggest following two hashtags on Twitter. The first is #IAmJacquesHamel, an obvious homage to the #IAmCharlieHebdo campaign after terrorists attacked the Paris staff of the famous satire magazine. The second hashtag is #santosubito. We will come back to that.

Which of these two stories are you seeing, when you open your local newspaper or click to the 24/7 news channels on your digital screens? I would argue that you should be seeing both. Are you?

It is likely that you are seeing language similar to this, care -- once again -- of The New York Times:

France is officially secular but Catholicism is deeply embedded in the country’s culture. That has made the shock and symbolism of the killing of the Rev. Jacques Hamel all the greater.

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