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 reopened for the first time, following purification rites because of the bloodshed at the altar. The archbishop of Rouen led a sacred procession to the church, which would have provided poignant visuals for coverage.
However, note the use of the word "satanic" in the pope's description of this act, and others driven -- supposedly -- by faith.
This leads me to some amazing material published by Elizabeth Scalia at the Aleteia website, drawn from a French report at Famille Chretienne (Christian Family).
The key: The report is drawn from new interviews with three of the worshipers who witnessed Father Hamel's death -- including 87-year-old Guy Coponet, who was forced to shoot video of the rites performed by the terrorists, including the near murder of Father Hamel and the ISIS-inspired sermon that followed. Coponet was stabbed three times, including once in the throat.
“[They] grabbed me by the collar and put a camera in my hands and said, ‘Granddaddy, you take the movie.’ They even checked the quality of the picture and made sure that I was not shaking too much.”
What followed was an unimaginable nightmare for him: “I had to film the assassination of my friend Father Jacques! I can’t get over it …”
The attackers intended for their video to be fed to social media networks, Coponet said. After the slaying of Fr. Hamel, Coponet warned them that they were on the wrong side of heaven, and that their parents would die of grief from their actions. At that point, one of the men lashed out. “He stabbed me and dragged me to the bottom of the altar steps. The floor was all red, but I didn’t realize that it was my blood flowing. I didn’t feel any pain at the time. I tightened my hand around my throat because blood was spurting out.”
The pope's use of the word "satanic" to describe these events were almost certainly linked to another detail in the attack inside the Normandy church -- reports that Father Hamel shouted, twice, "Be gone Satan!" as he was attacked.
Sister Danielle, one of the nuns present, shared this account of the moment. She was asked if the trio of witnesses believed they saw evil in action:
“No doubt,” said Sr. Danielle, “This does not mean that [the assailant] Adel Kermiche was possessed, but that Satan was at work in a powerful way. Father Jacques wanted to exorcise this evil. Those were his last words. Satan does not like the Eucharist …”
After stabbing Guy Coponet and dragging him to the altar steps, Kermiche commenced a conversation with Sr. Helen, one of the members of Sr. Danielle’s community. As Sr. Danielle relates, Kermiche asked, “Are you afraid of dying?” When the nun said “no” he seemed surprised and asked her why not.
“Because I believe in God, and I know I will be happy.”
The killer said, in a low voice, “I believe in God too, and I am not afraid of death.” Then he declared: “Jesus is a man, not God!”
The jihadis asked the two women, Janine Caponet and Sr. Helen, if they were familiar with the Koran. “Yes, I have read the Koran,” replied Sr. Helen. “What struck me were the sura that speak of peace.”
Kermiche suggested that when the women were inevitably brought before the television cameras they should call for peace from the authorities, saying that as long as bombings continued in Syria, attacks would continue in France, daily. “I think it was just a pretext,” says Sr. Danielle. “The only thing they had in their heads was propaganda received by internet.”
There are many other details from this drama that are worth mentioning, but that will do. By all means, read it all.
So what is my point here? Once again, let me stress that I know this is a story set in Europe and American readers are often not that interested in foreign coverage. However, I think this is a story that would hit home for many American readers, especially Catholics and others interested in religious persecution.
Could American journalists have sought interviews with the survivors? Would readers have been interested in the results?