MUMBAI – Cardinal Oswald Gracias has urged his clergy in the Archdiocese of Mumbai to imitate Father Jacques Hamel, the French priest killed in July by two men professing loyalty to the Islamic State — if not so much in the way Hamel died, then in how he lived.
Praising Hamel’s pastoral generosity and his “ultimate sacrifice,” Gracias urged priests to follow his example to be of service “up to the end.”
Visibly emotional, Gracias told his priests not to grieve or mourn Hamel’s tragic end, but to imitate this “great pastor.” Citing Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelic Gaudium,” he asked priests to have a “missionary impulse capable of transforming everything.”
“Let us all become agents of peace; of joy and of the resurrection,” Gracias said.
Gracias was speaking at an annual meeting of clergy in Mumbai held at the archdiocesan seminary, regarded locally as the first of a new ecclesiastical year since it follows announcements of priests’ transfers in June.
Gracias praised Hamel’s pastoral mission and ultimate sacrifice, and called on priests to be agents of peace, fraternity and solidarity.
The cardinal opened the meeting by pausing along with the priests in silence for two minutes for Hamel, and then said his example is destined “to impact the pastoral ministry of all priests today.”
The grisly slaying of Hamel, whose throat was slit while he was celebrating Mass in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy, shocked the public and stoked new fears of Islamic terrorism in Europe. There have been calls to declare Hamel a martyr, and the hashtag #santosubito — “saint now!,” the same cry heard at the funeral Mass of St. Pope John Paul II in 2005, trended on Twitter.
Speaking exclusively to Crux, Gracias, who serves as president of both the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and the Catholic Bishops’s Conference of India, and who’s also a member of Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers, decried the “cold-blooded” murder of the French priest.
“The Church in Asia grieves at the cold-blooded killing of a man of God in a house of worship, this holy priest who dedicated his entire life to Serving God and the people,” he said. “Though we can never completely comprehend the immensity of evil, from the depths of our hearts we cry out to God.”
Gracias called for prayers for both Hamel’s family, and also for those who put him to death.
“The Church in Asia is filled with sorrow at this senseless cowardly act,” he said. “Our prayers should go out for the families of the victims and for the perpetrators.”
Gracias noted that Hamel was killed while saying Mass, where Catholics believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist.
“Now our elderly priest sacrifice is joined/united to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and I pray that this will bring peace and tranquility to our disturbed world,” he said.
The cardinal insisted that despite the horror of what happened, good will come of Hamel’s sacrifice.
“We shall not be disheartened or give up hope, armed with the weapons of prayer and fasting, we combat with good the forces of darkness and evil,” he said. “His blood will bear fruits for the Catholic Church in carrying out its mission for the global community.”
Gracias said that in the face of mounting terror and violence, one has to have faith in God’s capacity to use evil for good.
“We must remember that the Triune God is the creator of all that exists and has the power to do more than we can possibly imagine,” he said. “From the depths of our hearts, the Church in Asia prays for our World so ravaged by the monstrosity of darkness and violence.”