A funeral has been held in the cathedral of Rouen for Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed by two jihadists last week. The presiding archbishop called on mourners to love their enemies.
Hundreds of mourners packed the ancient cathedral in the northern French city of Rouen on Tuesday to pay their last respects to Father Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old priest who was murdered last week by two Islamist attackers while celebrating Mass in the nearby town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
A political delegation led by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also attended the Mass, while hundreds more people watched the ceremony outside on a giant screen.
Security before the funeral was tight, with police searching the bags and backpacks of people entering the cathedral.
'Love your enemies'
The service was held by the archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, who spoke in his sermon of loving one's neighbors, loving one's enemies, and praying for those who commit acts of persecution.
Marseille Archbishop Georges Pontier, who heads the French Catholic Church, also attended the ceremony.
Hamel is to be buried in a private ceremony including only close family members at a location that has not been revealed.
"After the attack on Charlie Hebdo, I said 'Oh God, may we maintain our tolerance and discernment,'" said Jessica Deleporte, Hamel's niece, during the service.
"I didn't think I would have to apply that sentence to myself with such force and conviction," she added.
The priest met his death when two men, Abdel-Malik Nabil Petitjean and Adel Kermiche, both 19, stormed his church and slit his throat at the altar. Both attackers were later killed by police, who were alerted by a nun who managed to escape the building.
Another man, also in his 80s, was badly injured in the attack, during which the jihadists took hostages. Three other hostages escaped unharmed.
The extremist group "Islamic State" ("IS") later claimed that the two men were its "soldiers," and released a video of them pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The attack was the latest in a series of terror attacks in France, in which more than 200 people have died since January 2015. Less than two weeks ago, another attacker drove a large truck into a crowd of people celebrating the French national holiday, Bastille Day, in the southern city of Nice, killing 84 people and injuring 300 others.
France's religious communities have called for tolerance following the attack in a church - the first in western Europe in recent times - fearing tensions in a country that has a population of some 5 million Muslims.
On Sunday, many French Muslims attended Mass in towns and cities across the country, including Rouen, in a display of solidarity with the country's Catholics. Interfaith ceremonies were also held in Italy.
tj/kms (dpa, AFP)