Attack on pastor in Saint Etienne: where terror unites Christians and Muslims


Status: 07/26/2021 5:36 a.m.

Nice, Ansbach, Würzburg – shortly after these attacks in 2016, Islamists killed a Catholic clergyman in a church in northern France. Since then, Christians and Muslims have felt closer there than before.

By Cai Rienäcker, ARD-Studio Paris, currently Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray

The bells of the little church of Saint Etienne can be heard from afar in this suburb of Rouen. The historic building made of heavy limestone is located in the manageable center of the town of the same name, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, just under a kilometer from the Seine. In the church, Pastor Gauthier Mapana stands at the wooden altar and points to some notches on the surface: “This is where the two perpetrators also bored their knives into the altar,” says the pastor, who comes from the Congo. And then he points to the place in front of the altar where his predecessor, 85-year-old Jacques Hamel, was also brutally killed with a knife: “The two young men stabbed him with a knife, including his neck. And then he collapsed here, at this point. ”

Suddenly the center of the world

It should have been 18 knife wounds. The perpetrators: two 19-year-old French people who had radicalized very quickly. The so-called Islamic State committed itself to the attack on the same day in this terror month of July 2016, twelve days after a truck sped into people celebrating in Nice and a few days after the attacks in Ansbach and Würzburg. The little church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy suddenly became the focus of world events. After the funeral ceremonies, a large number of visitors came: “People really came from everywhere, big buses with pilgrims. We have laid out a golden book here that everyone can sign. We have to exchange it every year because it is full . ”

A corner has been set up in the church to commemorate the murdered pastor, “Père Hamel”, as he is called in France. Pope Francis is said to have personally allowed this veneration with pictures of the deceased. A beatification procedure has already started in the Vatican. There should also be legal proceedings. Since both assassins were shot dead by the French police in the attack on site, the main issue will be the joint responsibility of the French authorities, as the perpetrators were already classified as dangerous.

“Kind of good news”

Only a few kilometers from the site of the attack, there is holiday care for the children from the neighborhood. Many nationalities are there; some Christians, but also Muslims. The children play on a larger lawn that belongs to the same pastoral care unit. Right next to it, separated by a wall, the local mosque. A few years before the attack on Jacques Hamel, the Catholic community had already sold a large part of its property to the neighboring Muslim community for a symbolic euro so that they could build their mosque.

The attack did not tear the relationship apart, on the contrary, as Pastor Pierre Belhache reports. He takes care of relations with the Muslims for the Diocese of Rouen. “We realized that what we do and experience here is not so commonplace,” says Belhache. “The many journalists who came by here always said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting what you’re doing here.’ For us it was completely natural because we all live here together in the same place. So we saw that we can talk about it, make some kind of good news out of it. ”

Catholics and Muslims even more closely connected

The contact with the imam of the mosque has become even closer, reports the Catholic pastor Belhache. Sometimes people cry on the phone when there has been another serious assassination attempt in the name of Allah. Five years ago in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, one of the assassins came straight from the village. “You can tell that there is a certain bitterness in the Muslim community that extremist currents have been brought in from outside for several years,” reports the pastor. “Material is distributed, radical speeches were given. And that makes it difficult for the representatives of Islam here in France.”

Since the attack on Jacques Hamel, the community representatives have intensified their contacts. On Fridays, Catholics and Muslims of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray meet in the mosque, on Saturday evenings in the Catholic Church. Each anniversary of the knife wounds that were deadly for Père Hamel on the altar reminds her of the importance of these meetings.

Anniversary of the terrorist attack on Père Hamel – report from Normandy

Cai Rienäcker, ARD Paris, currently Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, July 25, 2021 9:50 p.m.

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