A formal inquiry has begun into the cause for beatification of the French priest Fr Jacques Hamel, who was killed last July while celebrating Mass. The inquiry, which comes less than a year after the murder, is the first step towards possible sainthood.
The Vatican traditionally requires a five-year waiting period after the death of a candidate for sainthood before a cause is opened, but Pope Francis waived the rule in response to pleas from French Catholics.
Hamel was killed on July 26, 2016 as he celebrated Mass at St-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church near Rouen when two young men who claimed allegiance to so-called Islamic State stormed the church. After taking several hostages, the attackers slit his throat and seriously injured another parishioner. Police shot the attackers dead.
The Pope called Hamel a martyr during a special service for the priest in September at the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican.
'Fr Jacques Hamel had his throat slit on the cross, at the exact moment he was celebrating the sacrifice of Christ's cross. A good man, meek, brotherly and who always sought to make peace, was murdered as if he were a criminal. This is the satanic line of persecution,' Pope Francis said.
The inquiry, which was announced by Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, is expected to take several years. The beatification of a martyr is a simpler process because there is no need to prove a miracle occurred through his intercession.
A statement from the Archdiocese said that around 50 people will be contacted. The group will include witnesses at the Mass as well as family members, fellow priests and others who knew Fr Hamel.