French bishops declare day of fasting after priest's murder

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In response to the murder of Father Jacques Hamel by believed Islamic State sympathizers, the French bishops have designated Friday, July 29, as a day of fasting.

Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, secretary general of the French Bishops Conference, discussed the decision July 26.

"What happened in France had happened in other countries before, and actually we see Christians laying down their lives in the interests of their faith," he told journalists gathered in Krakow for World Youth Day.

"They die because they are objects of hate and this for a fact gives us an additional motivation to live the life of fraternity we are called to."

Earlier in the day, two armed gunmen stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in the Normandy region. The assailants entered the church during Mass and took the priest and four others hostage.

Police sources said the 86-year-old priest's throat was slit in the attack. Both of the assailants were shot dead by police. One of the hostages was critically wounded.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, and one of the attackers has been identified as a 19-year-old man who was under house arrest with a tracking bracelet after being caught attempting to travel to Syria.

The murder comes on the tail of numerous attacks in recent weeks.

Saying the attackers were terrorists, Msgr. Dumas stressed that in the midst of shock and sadness following the attack, Christians must not let evil and violence dominate.

"A priest is a symbol of peace and fraternity, and he was an old priest, more than 50 years as a priest in France, so tonight we are sad and we are shocked by this," the priest acknowledged.

"But we are also something which is very strong. We want to maintain and develop dialogue between the different people in our country. We need peace, we need fraternity, we need to build a society where people love each other, and we will continue this path," he said. "The Catholic Church in France wants that."

World Youth Day, which officially begins today, offers a special chance for reflection, he added: "We should see the horizon, the horizon of peace, of joy, brotherhood and prayer. We are rooted in our faith and in Christ and we believe that evil and violence will not have the upper hand."

According to Msgr Dumas, the French contingent at World Youth Day received the news with sadness. About 300 youth are from the Diocese of Rouen, out of 3,000 French pilgrims total at the international gathering this week.

The French priest believes that World Youth Day needs to go forward "with even greater intensity."

He stressed the importance of fraternity, hope in the future, and "the desire to create a world in which violence and hate don't have any place." He said the young pilgrims "want to live it here, and they say that to all French people."

Msgr. Dumas voiced confidence in Polish authorities' efforts to ensure security at World Youth Day.

He also noted that in other parts of the world, many people are killed because they are Christians or because they are Muslims.

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"Many more Muslims than Christians are killed because they are Muslims, so we pray and we are going to pray at Mass in a few minutes for peace and for all those who are killed because they believe in God."

Msgr. Dumas said the Church most foster dialogue among different people.

"It's a bit hard, difficult, so we do it with hope," he said. "It's a Christian attitude because we think that the Catholic religion can involve all of our society, and that is very important for us. Violence is not the answer, the only answer is really love. We cannot do anything else. Love, love and love. Dialogue and dialogue. And also have mercy for all those who are totally distracted by violence."

Pope Francis, in his response to the attack, has condemned "every form of hatred." A Vatican statement said the Pope "participates in the pain and horror of this absurd violence."

The Vatican statement said it was especially moving that the "barbaric murder" took place in a church

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen also reacted to the attack from Krakow.

"I cry out to God, with all men of good will. And I invite all non-believers to unite with this cry ... The Catholic Church has no other weapons besides prayer and fraternity between men," he said.

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Editor's note - updated July 26, 9:41 pm: An earlier version of this article stated that the day of fasting would be July 31. In fact, it will be July 29.

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