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Will this murder fuel a French Catholic revival?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 26, 2016

How will France react to the murder of Father Jacques Hamel? I don’t mean the country’s political leaders, who will naturally condemn this brutal act of violence. I mean the ordinary people of France: a country that was once a great bastion of Catholicism, and is now so thoroughly secularized.

Or maybe “secularized” is not the right term. An even more profound change is occurring in France. After two centuries of secularization, the country is experiencing a sort of religious conversion. The latest surveys suggest that for every young adult in France who is a practicing Catholic, there are at least three—probably more—practicing Muslims.

So how will France respond? No doubt millions of people will mourn Father Hamel. But—here’s my point—I suspect a few people will envy him.

Yesterday none of us knew the name “Jacques Hamel.” Today we all honor him as a hero of the faith. And doesn’t every idealistic young man want to be a hero?

In the wake of this murder—and the report that the Islamic State has targeted a number of Catholic churches in France—it will take a measure of courage for priests (especially in those designated churches) to carry out their ministry. Will that discourage young men from entering the priesthood? I doubt it.

The willingness to accept martyrdom seems to be embedded deep within the DNA of Gallic Catholicism. (It is present in any healthy Catholic community, I suppose; but it is particularly visible in the history of the French Church.) Think of St. Therese of Lisieux, in her convent, quietly praying for the grace of martyrdom…the Carmelites singing their way toward the scaffold…the peasants of the Vendée, in their doomed resistance to the anti-clerical power of the Revolution.

Think of the North American martyrs, who volunteered for missionary work in the New World, knowing full well that they were likely to be killed. Think especially St. Isaac Jogues, who was already recognized as a hero when he returned to France after being tortured by the Iroquois. He was not content to be a hero; he wanted to be a martyr. And so he was: killed almost exactly 370 years ago, not far from where I now live.

My prediction is that there will be more applicants for the French seminaries this year. But even if I’m wrong—even if only a handful of young men are willing to face the risks—they will be true sons of the “eldest daughter of the Church,” and their witness will inspire others.

Pray for a revival of Catholicism in France. But pray with confidence. The worst enemy of Catholic evangelization is not violence, but complacency. And as of July 26, for the Church in France, complacency is no longer an option.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: shrink - Jul. 26, 2016 5:27 PM ET USA

    The murder of the French priest was like that of the martyrdom of Fr. Christopher in Mexico circa 1927. The trauma of witness galvanized the will of the Mexican boy, Jose Luis, to join the Catholic resistance. Jose and the Mexican peasantry had the incomparable advantage then of living in a space and time absent the pervasive influence of cultural Marxists. French youth today have no such advantage and have instead been steeped in the same ideology that drove the Federales to murder.