Marring Sacred Space


Whenever innocent life is violated and maimed by violence, a sacred bond is shattered, a covenant broken. Willful destruction of life is not in keeping with the Father’s divine plan.

Within the sacred space of the sanctuary, we have now witnessed the willful destruction of life by the terrorist group ISIS. For me, this act has crossed the honored line between secular and spiritual space. Not to say that our secular, human spaces are not open to encounters with the Divine (they most definitely are), but the sanctity of the sacred space of a church and its sanctuary represent inviolate spaces in which Catholics experience the goodness and wholeness of our relationship with God. 

Into the space of the sanctuary of St. Etienne du Rouvray, Normandy, France, where Father Jacques Hamel was celebrating Mass on the morning of July 26, two despicable, cowardly, pathetically misguided persons shattered the sacred and inviolate bond of that space. Within the sanctuary, Father Hamel and four others of the faithful came face to face with evil. Father Hamel was murdered after being forced to his knees and attacked with a knife. In that moment, he became a living sacrifice, a martyr in our time and place symbolizing ISIS’s terror campaign against the West, specifically Western Christianity.

From the tender photo of Father Hamel that accompanies the online account of this horrific act, one can see the face and hands, the demeanor and mien of a man who had spent 58 years in humble and sacred priestly pastoral care. 

One might see a cruel and perverted irony in Father’s murder within his sanctuary, but we can also take solace and comfort that in his last moments in this world, he was in the act of what was most clearly the work that defined him and his soul. At the moment of his death, Jesus accompanied him to the place reserved for him since the beginning of time.

Katherine Petrillo



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