Thousands of people gathered inside Rouen Cathedral on Tuesday (2 August) for the funeral of Father Jacques Hamel, a priest who was killed while leading morning mass in the nearby town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray by two French citizens chanting in Arabic. The attackers, later named as Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, were shot dead by police at the scene.
Held at a 13th-century Gothic church in northern France, the service heard from Hamel's sister Roselyne, who told the congregation how, during his military service, her brother had refused an officer's rank so he wouldn't have to give the order to kill. She went on to say how he was once the only survivor of a desert shootout.
"He would often ask himself: 'Why me?' Today, Jacques, our brother, your brother, you have your answer. Our God of love and mercy chose you to be at the service of others," she said. A picture of Hamel was placed by the altar and people who had come to pay their respects watched the service on a giant television screen outside.
Hamel's murder was the first Islamist attack on a church in western Europe. It came just 12 days after a Tunisian man who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State drove his truck through a crowd of people during Bastille Day celebrations in the Riviera city of Nice, killing 84. Islamist militants have killed more than 200 people in France since January 2015.
Since the 1980s, successive governments have tried to nurture a liberal Islam that would better integrate the faith into French society. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the state must reinvent its relationship with the 'Islam of France'. Valls wants to ban foreign funding for mosques and says all French imams should be trained in France. "We must guard against being paternalistic but we must have the lucidity to recognise that there is an urgency to helping 'Islam of France' get rid of those that undermine it from within," Valls told the weekly Journal du Dimanche.
But some Islamic leaders have expressed doubts over the government's plans. "It's on the internet that radicalisation takes place, not in the mosques," Moroccan-born Tareq Oubrou, a leading moderate imam from Bordeaux, told BFM TV. "We mustn't kid ourselves." France has the largest Muslim minority in the European Union, comprising roughly 8% of the population.