“Reciprocal talk of martyrdom is unhelpful. The impulse to canonize Father Hamel, however sincere and well intentioned, feeds the idea of retaliation — our martyr for yours — that gives the jihadists the war of religions they seek”
“Santo subito.” The Italian words mean “make him a saint now.” The call comes from Catholics shocked at the death of the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the priest whose throat was cut on Tuesday in a small French town near Rouen. Such calls to canonize the murdered priest are ill advised. They will only play into the hands of the extremists. The demand to declare Father Hamel an official martyr of the Catholic Church is understandable, and he fulfills the traditional criteria. He was killed, according to the Church’s Latin definition, “in odium fidei”, meaning “in hatred of the faith.” For France, this outrage crosses a new frontier. Jihadists have now exported to the West tactics long used against Christians and other minorities in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. Some will react by unwittingly accepting the terrorists’ agenda. But others reject the Islamic State narrative. “This is not a war of religions,” said a Parisian churchgoer. “It’s not a Muslim who killed a Catholic. It is simply evil.” Father Hamel may be a martyr in the eyes of the Church, but his attackers are also martyrs in the eyes of jihadists. There is an egregious false equivalence between the two: one is a pure victim, while the others were killers who contrived to die at the hands of French law enforcers. We must resist the notion that a fundamental clash of civilizations is the issue. The real problem is the pathology of a perverse minority of extremists with distorted notions of holy war and martyrdom. Pope Francis was right to speak of the “absurd violence” of Father Hamel’s death and to describe the “senseless hatred” of the massacre in Nice. Reciprocal talk of martyrdom is unhelpful. The impulse to canonize Father Hamel, however sincere and well intentioned, feeds the idea of retaliation --our martyr for yours-- that gives the jihadists the war of religions they seek.