Thousands of mourners are attending the funeral of a Catholic priest who was murdered in a brutal terrorist attack in his own church.
Father Jacques Hamel’s funeral is taking place amid tight security at Rouen Cathedral, where Muslims and Christians came together to mourn his death at a service on Sunday.
Police were closely checking bags and backpacks of many of the 2,000 people packing out the 11th-century Gothic cathedral, situated a few miles from the scene of the murder.
Hundreds more gathered outside to watch on a giant screen in the rain as speakers including Fr Hamel’s sister and Archbishop Dominique Lebrun paid tribute to the 85-year-old priest.
Thousands have attended Father Jacques Hamel’s funeral in Rouen
Speaking with a relative supporting her, the priest’s sister Roselyne Hamel described him as “everyone’s brother” and issued an appeal for people of different faiths to “learn to live together”.
She said Fr Hamel had refused to become an officer in the French military in Algeria because “he would have had to give orders to his men to kill other men, so he categorically refused”.
She said that after emerging as the sole survivor in a desert gun battle he would often ask himself “why me?”.
Father Jacques Hamel will be buried during an undisclosed private ceremony
She added: “Today, Jacques, our brother, your brother, you have your answer; our God of love and misery chose you to be at the service of others.”
In an emotional address, Fr Hamel’s niece Jessica Deleporte said: “Like you, I choose respect, like you, I choose love, like you, I choose to fight.”
Security was tight outside the cathedral ahead of the funeral
After the service – attended by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve – Fr Hamel was due to be buried in a private, family ceremony at an undisclosed location.
The priest was forced to kneel by killers Adel Kermiche and Abdelmalik Petitjean before they slit his throat in his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray last Tuesday.
Kermiche and Petitjean, who had both pledged allegiance to Islamic State, stormed the church and attacked Fr Hamel at the altar in front of worshippers and nuns they took hostage.
Adel Kermiche (L) and Abdelmalik Petitjean
The 19-year-old jihadis were shot dead on the church steps by police as they emerged from the building immediately after the attack shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”).
One nun, named as Sister Danielle, who managed to escape and revealed the horror of the tragedy, described her dead colleague as “an extraordinary priest” and “a wonderful, kind man”.
The priest’s murder has stirred strong emotions across France, where the security forces are under scrutiny after it emerged both killers were known to police.
Kermiche was under house arrest after having twice tried to travel to Syria and was wearing an electronic tag which was turned off for a few hours every morning, allowing him to carry out the killing.
The attack occurred less than two weeks after the Bastille Day massacre in Nice which left 84 people dead after Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a truck into a crowd celebrating the national holiday on 14 July.