— Diocese of Achonry (@achonrydiocese) 26 July 2016
Dear Fr Jacques,
As you walked to Mass this morning, I wonder what thoughts were in your head? Had someone asked for a prayer, a remembrance at today’s Altar? Was there a promise somewhere to remember someone and to bring his or her needs and hopes to The Lord? Were you like me, rushing in at the last minute, confident that all would be ready or were you the “me I’d like to be”, there a good while before Mass, getting things ready, taking a seat somewhere in the church to settle your own thoughts? Tonight, I’m wondering all these things.
As you put on Alb and Stole this morning, covering up the everyday man, what joy you sought to bring to your congregation. Was there a little bell sounded to say you were on your way from the sacristy? Was there a little hymn or opening Antiphon that marked the move from gathering to being gathered? It should have been like other days, Jacques, a day begun in prayer in a little church that has been home to countless generations of people, like you and your gathered few. You have been faithful to them and they to you. Faithful to Him and He to you. Eighty four years of life, more than half a century of priesthood – you knew what you were about. You made a difference.
It’s certain that you had wished the small congregation well. “The Lord be with you” you spoke to them and though small in number the little congregation replied “and with your spirit”. I don’t know how far you had moved on in the Mass. Had there been time for the confession of sins, the seeking of the Lord’s mercy and, more importantly, its reception “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life” …. “Amen”.
I’m sad that you died such a violent death, Jacques. I’m hurt that as you got ready to celebrate Mass, to make that powerful statement of faith and loyalty to the request of a Peace-filled man; “do this in memory of me”, others got ready to seek fresh blood, to spill blood that has been too often spilt. It’s difficult to imagine the three of you waking up to this July morning, opening your eyes to the day, reaching for clothes and dressing, washing, preparing, walking out your front doors, seemingly in the same town but with totally different intent. You carried life and they carried death. You sought to open your mouth in praise and encouragement but not so, it seems,the intent of your assailants. Some, perhaps even themselves, believed a message was delivered. It’s difficult to imagine any vocabulary could string words together to make sense of their message.
They’re calling you a “martyr” tonight. Some say you should be canonised. It’s certain you sought neither title. Seemingly you were happy where you were, being a priest among people. I can see you walking down the street, nodding to one, stopping with another, feeling at home and safe. No more than you deserved. No more than the world deserves.
Who do we blame? That’s the danger isn’t it? We look for someone to blame and beyond someone a group, a religion, a country and it’s pointless. There are the finest of people in every country, every group and every religion. There are people, countless people, who detest these actions and recoil from them. Sadly though, there are others too, who make noises, stir up mistrust, sow seeds of hate and quite likely from a distance watch others as they carry into society the work and words of twisted minds. From that distance, they watch young men and women, like your neighbours, carry out atrocities and die.
Sadly it’s certain you won’t be the last to die like this. In a few days time your name will have slipped from our news headlines and newspapers will have other stories to tell. He, whom you sought to serve in priesthood, He will not forget. Neither will your little congregation and there will be some, many, to speak your name in a quiet prayer and to say “Merci, Pere Jacques”.
Tonight, I’m one of them. I’ll bring you to Mass in the morning and another little congregation will say “Lord graciously hear us” as we mention your name alongside a prayer for peace.
Your brother in Christ,