The French Archdiocese of Rouen has officially begun an inquiry into the beatification of French priest Jacques Hamel, killed by Islamic extremists earlier this summer, after receiving a note from Pope Francis waiving the traditional five-year waiting period.
Rouen’s Archbishop Dominique Lebrun made the announcement after celebrating a Mass Oct. 2 to re-open the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, where Hamel was killed by supporters of the Islamic State while saying Mass in July.
Typically there is a five-year waiting period required after the death of a person before a diocese can begin official investigations for the beatification. Though waiving the rule isn’t normal, other modern examples of the exemption are St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II.
According to an Oct. 2 statement released by the French Bishops’ Conference, Lebrun was informed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints that Pope Francis “has dispensed the five year waiting period usually required before starting the official investigation of the beatification.”
In order to thank the pope for “this exceptional gesture,” Lebrun decided to start the process on the day when Hamel’s parish was re-opened.
To mark the re-opening of Hamel’s parish, which has been closed since his bloody death July 16, the archbishop held a special Mass that began with a procession from the parish rectory to the front doors of the church, which were re-opened after he offered some brief comments.
The liturgy included the reading of scripture, special prayers and Mass, all of which were focused on themes of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. The specific rite used for the Mass was the one prayed in cases of desecration and had been adapted for the occasion.
Pope Francis had previously expressed his confidence that Hamel was a martyr during a Sept. 14 Mass at the Vatican in memory of the priest. Lebrun, Hamel’s sister, and about 80 other pilgrims from Rouen were present.
Lebrun, who was Hamel’s bishop, asked the pope if he would sign a photograph of the murdered priest for them to take to the three religious sisters who witnessed Hamel’s murder, but were unable to travel to Rome for the Mass.
The archbishop was surprised when Pope Francis told him to put the photo on the altar before Mass, though. “This struck me,” he said.
“After he greeted everyone, he was signing the photo and told me: you can put this photo in the church because he (Hamel) is blessed now; and if someone tells you that you have no right, you tell them that the pope has given you permission,” Lebrun related at a news conference.