Pope Francis saddened by murder of French priest Fr. Olivier Maire

Pope Francis makes the sign of the cross in the Pope Paul VI Hall on Aug. 11, 2021. Pope Francis makes the sign of the cross during his general audience on Aug. 11, 2021. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis said on Wednesday he is sorrowful at the news of the Aug. 9 murder of French priest Fr. Olivier Maire, as he extended his condolences to the priest’s family, community, and all Catholics in France.

During his general audience Aug. 11, the pope said he learned of the murder of the priest in western France “with great sorrow.”

Fr. Olivier Maire, 61, was the French provincial superior of the Montfort Missionaries (the Company of Mary). His murder was announced on Aug. 9 by the country’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

“I extend my condolences to the Montfortian religious community in Saint laurent-sur-Sèvre, in Vendée, to his family and to all the Catholics of France,” Pope Francis said. “I assure you of my sympathy and my spiritual closeness. To all, my blessing.”

Pope Francis spoke about Fr. Maire during his greeting to French-speaking pilgrims at his weekly public audience. After a summer break in July, Francis has resumed the meetings this month.

Maire was killed in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, a commune in the Vendée department, western France. The town is home to the Basilica of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, where the founder is buried and where St. John Paul II preached in 1996.

The French bishops’ conference and the Conference of Religious of France said in a joint statement on Aug. 9 that the man suspected of killing the priest “was staying with Fr. Olivier Maire” at the time of the murder.

Media named the suspect as Emmanuel Abayisenga, a 40-year-old man of Rwandan origin who is also suspected of starting the fire at Nantes cathedral in July 2020.

Abayisenga was questioned by police Aug. 9 in connection with the murder.

French media reported that the suspect walked into a police station in Mortagne-sur-Sèvre on Monday morning and told officers that he had killed a priest.

Abayisenga reportedly met Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2016, four years before he was arrested by police and later released on bail following the fire on July 18, 2020, at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul of Nantes, where he worked as a volunteer warden.

A photograph taken on Nov. 11, 2016, first published by the French Catholic newspaper La Croix on July 15, showed a man identified as Abayisenga greeting Pope Francis during an audience with socially excluded people in the Vatican.

La Croix confirmed in its Aug. 9 report on the murder of Fr. Maire that Abayisenga “had met with Pope Francis in 2016 in Rome.”

The pope is believed to have met with Abayisenga during a gathering for the European Festival of Joy and Mercy in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

The event for socially excluded people was organized by the French organization Fratello, as part of the Catholic Church’s year-long Jubilee of Mercy. Around 3,600 people attended, including many from France, Poland, and Rome.

According to La Croix, Abayisenga traveled to Rome with a group from Nantes. He had been under the protection of the local Christian community after arriving in the city in 2012, the Catholic newspaper said.

In his general audience address Aug. 11, Pope Francis reflected on the law of God, noting that adherence to the law should bring us into encounter with Jesus Christ, which “is more important than all of the Commandments.”

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“All those who have faith in Jesus Christ are called to live in the Holy Spirit, who liberates from the Law and, at the same time, brings it to fulfillment according to the commandment of love,” he said.

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