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.
A Mass at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, reserved for the most solemn state occasions, was held Wednesday evening in memory of Father Hamel, 85, whose attackers forced him to kneel before killing him in the old stone church of St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy. Much of the government and two of France’s three living former presidents attended.
And other elite media?
I know that BBC has offered other reports on the death of Father Hamel. Still, I think that it's sad that that the following is the full text of the report I found, with a search engine, when searching that site for coverage of the Requiem Mass for Hamel at Notre Dame Cathedral.
French President Francois Hollande has attended a memorial mass for Fr Jacques Hamel at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Father Hamel, 86, was killed in an attack on Tuesday at a church in a Normandy suburb.
Yes, the short BBC video was quite beautiful. Yet, does that lede really focus on the key fact in this story? Many journalists would say that it does.
Frankly, I was surprised that so few global news agencies paid attention to what was said and done during this Requiem Mass.
After all, the theme that connects the two Father Jacques stories -- the political and religious -- in many news reports is that this attack on a small Catholic church represents a crisis at the "soul" of France. Can the leaders of a secular state make sense of this violence that continues to shake their land?
If that is the case, then why not send a reporter to the official Requiem Mass in honor of the martyred priest?
In my experience, as a reporter, funerals tend to produce broad, poignant statements about What. It. All. Means. Consider this, care of Euronews.com:
The Requiem Mass was led by the archbishop of Paris who said that it is hope that allows us not to succumb to hate when we are taken by torment.
“It’s this hope, at the heart of the test, which forever bars the path of despair, of vengeance, and of death. It’s this hope that animated the ministry of Father Jacques Hamel when he celebrated the Eucharist during which he was savagely executed,” said Cardinal André Vingt-Trois.
“It’s this hope which supports the Christians from the Orient when they must flee before persecution, and they choose to leave everything rather than renounce their faith. It’s this hope that lives in the heart of hundreds of thousands of young people gathered around Pope Francis in Krakow. It’s this same hope which permits us do not succumb to hate when we are taken by torment,” Vingt-Trois added.
Speaking of Pope Francis, he was in Poland for World Youth Day -- events that unfolded as calls began for the Vatican to proclaim Father Jacques as a martyr and saint.
Roberto Maroni, the president of the Lombard region, said in an appeal circulated on social media that 'Father Jacques is a martyr of faith; and requested that the pope 'immediately proclaim him St. Jacques'.
Shortly after the appeal, the hashtag #santosubito, which translates as 'saint immediately', began circulating on Twitter.
The canonisation process is a lengthy one involving two miracles attributed to the person's intercession, but in the case of a martyr only one miracle is needed, after beatification. There must first be a declaration by the Vatican that the person indeed died for the faith.
Would many news consumers find this angle of the story compelling?
It is my observation that there are quite a few Catholics in the world and some of them still read major newspapers. Believers in other folds may also be interested in knowing more about the life and symbolic death of this priest.
Once again: Does the religion angle of this story deserve coverage?
May I even suggest that, for many readers, this side of the story is just as important as the political/police angle? After all, if the goal is to probe the "why" in this story -- the What. It. All. Means. angle -- there are people who would argue that the ultimate answers, in this case, have as much to do with theology as with political science.