France priest: Jihadist attack church re-opens

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun leads a procession through Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, prior to a special Mass. 2 Oct 2017 Image copyright AFP
Image caption A procession through the town was led by Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun

The French church where an elderly priest was murdered by Islamist extremists has opened its doors for the first time since the attack on 26 July.

A special service began with a procession through the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy.

In the church itself, the Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun sprinkled holy water as a sign of purification.

Many Muslims also attended the ceremony, which was relayed on a big screen in the town square.

The attack was claimed by two followers of so-called Islamic State, who were shot dead by police afterwards.

The attackers slit the throat of 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel at the foot of the altar in front of parishioners after bursting into the church during Mass.

Thousands attended Fr Hamel's funeral in the city of Rouen in August.

Image copyright Catholic Diocese of Rouen HO
Image caption Father Jacques Hamel was killed while celebrating Mass
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Security was tight for Sunday's special service
Image caption Archbishop Dominique Lebrun led a special Mass inside the church
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The small church was packed for the ceremony

"This is a new stage of healing, of convalescence," said town mayor Hubert Wulfranc, who hopes to erect a monument in memory of Fr Hamel.

Mafalda Pace, 81, who lives next door to the 16th-Century church, said Fr Hamel was "a good priest".

"I always went to see him and he never refused to be of service," she told AFP news agency.

The killing of Fr Hamel shocked France. It came after an attack that killed 86 people on Bastille Day when a militant Islamist drove a lorry into crowds in the southern city of Nice.

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