Father Jacques Hamel: Tributes paid to priest who dedicated life to church

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image captionFather Jacques Hamel was a well-known figure in St-Etienne-du-Rouvray

Jacques Hamel, the priest murdered by IS sympathisers during morning Mass at his church in Normandy, has been described as a courageous and dedicated man who had pledged to serve the church "until my last breath".

Father Hamel, who was 86, retired nearly a decade ago but continued to serve as an assistant priest at the church in St Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen.

When the two attackers burst into the church on Tuesday, he was leading the service in the absence of the regular priest, Father Auguste Moanda-Phuati.

His throat was slit by the two men, who took five people hostage before being shot dead by police. One hostage remains in a critical condition.

"He was a courageous priest for his age. Priests have the right to retire at 75 but he preferred to work in the service of the people because he still felt strong," Father Moanda-Phuati told France's Le Figaro.

"He was very popular, a good man, simple and without extravagance. We benefited greatly from his experience and wisdom at the parish of Saint-Etienne. He served people for most of his life," he added.

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image captionFr Hamel served as an assistant priest at St-Etienne-du-Rouvray's Catholic church

Father Hamel was born in 1930 in Darnétal, Seine-Maritime. He was ordained in 1958 and celebrated his golden jubilee - 50 years of priesthood - in 2008, according to the parish website.

Father Aime Remi Mputu Amba, the dean of another local church, described him as a man of "great discretion and great attention" who brought a "ray of sunshine" to meetings.

Speaking to Le Figaro, Father Mputu Amba said: "Despite his advanced age he was still invested in the life of the parish. I often told him, jokingly, 'Jacques, you are getting on a bit, it's time to take your pension.' To which he replied, laughing, 'Have you ever seen a retired pastor? I will work until my last breath.'"

image copyrightAP
image captionFather Hamel was described as a "man of peace"

In a parish newsletter sent out last month to mark the holiday period, Father Hamel urged parishioners to spend time with friends and family and to look out for those who are alone. "Be considerate of others, whoever they are," he wrote.

Parishioners said they were shocked by the attack and paid tribute to the priest. Eulalie Garcia, who took catechism classes with Father Hamel as a girl, said: "My family has lived here for 35 years and we have always known him.

"He was someone who was treasured by the community. He was very discreet and didn't like to draw attention to himself."

Pensioner Claude-Albert Seguin told the Associated Press: "Everyone knew him very well. He was very loved in the community and a kind man."

Another parishioner said on Twitter: "The priest who died, he baptised me, taught me the Catechism... I am outraged, shocked, sad."

Mohammed Karabila, the president of Normandy's Regional Council of the Muslim Faith, who worked with Father Hamel on an interfaith committee, described him as "a man of peace" who "dedicated his life to his ideas and religion".

Pope Francis condemned the killing as "barbaric".

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