By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – A Rwandan immigrant who allegedly caused a massive fire that ravaged the cathedral in the French city of Nantes last year has murdered a Catholic priest in western France, the interior minister said.
“All my support for the Catholics of our country after the dramatic murder of a priest in the Vendee region,” Gerald Darmanin, the interior minister, wrote on social networking site Twitter, adding he was heading to the scene.
Senator Bruno Retailleau, who represents France’s western Vendee region, identified the victim as Olivier Maire. He said the local Catholic church had been housing the Rwandan man.
A source close to the investigation told media the man had “gone to the police in the town of Mortagne-sur-Sevre and declared that he had killed a priest.” Police found the body of the priest shortly afterward in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre in Vendee region.
The murder raised new questions as French immigration authorities reportedly ordered the Rwandan national to leave France in 2019. Despite the order, he remained.
Later the man named publicly as Emmanuel Abayisenga reportedly confessed to being responsible for the fire in July 2020 that engulfed the inside of the 15th-century cathedral in Nantes.
His lawyer reportedly caller his client a “physically and psychologically fragile” man. The blaze in the Gothic Nantes cathedral destroyed its stained glass windows, a painting, and its famed grand organ from 1621 that had survived the French Revolution and World War II.
The Nantes fire linked to the Rwandan man came 15 months after the devastating 2019 blaze at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, which raised questions about the security risks for other historic churches across France.
Abayisenga was initially placed under arrest before being freed under judicial control. At the time of the fire, which shocked France, he was volunteering in the local diocese, church sources said.
In an act of compassion, the priest gave shelter to the 40-year-old Rwandan while he remained under investigation with a trial due in 2022, Worthy News learned.
“Deeply shocked by the terrible murder of a priest who had taken his murderer into his care,” Senator Retailleau wrote on Twitter. “What was this man still doing in France?” Retailleau wondered, referring to the 2019 deportation order.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who accuses the government of being weak on immigration, said the attack showed the migration reality in France. In France, “you can be an illegal migrant, set fire to a cathedral, not be expelled and then re-offend by murdering a priest,” she said.
Minister Darmanin immediately accused her of “making a polemic without knowing the facts,” adding that the man could not be expelled from France so long as he was under judicial control.
“I’m distraught,” said one parishioner who gave her name as Bernadette.
“Just yesterday, I saw the [now murdered] priest give an organ concert at the church of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre, ” she stressed.
Monday’s killing of the Catholic Church leader comes roughly five years after an 84-year-old priest was murdered by two armed men storming his church in a suburb of Rouen in northern France.
The two attackers, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group, slit Jacques Hamel’s throat during a morning Mass in July 2016.
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