Murdered French priest Hamel on path to sainthood

Father Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old priest murdered by two jihadists last year, could soon be beatified

The French Catholic priest who was murdered by two teenage jihadists in his Normandy church last year could soon be beatified, a first step toward being declared a saint, church officials said Thursday.

Father Jacques Hamel, 85, was killed at the altar in front of a handful of worshippers, while conducting a mass last July in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near the northern city of Rouen.

The two 19-year-old assailants slit his throat, further horrifying France and the world two weeks after a radicalised truck driver killed 86 people in Nice.

Catholic authorities in Rouen said Thursday that the process of having Hamel beatified had started.

"If it succeeds, the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel will be officially recognised according to Church criteria," said the Rouen diocese, for whom Hamel "died for his faith".

Beatification is a first step to canonisation or sainthood.

In October, Pope Francis agreed to waive the five-year "cooling off" period usually observed after the death of a candidate for sainthood, before launching the process for Hamel's beatification.

As Hamel is considered a "martyr", his beatification and canonisation does not require proof of miracles.

Hamel's attackers, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, were shot dead by police outside the church.

The Islamic State group claimed they had murdered the priest on its behalf.