A Rwandan who reportedly surrendered to police after the murder of a priest in western France on Monday met Pope Francis in 2016, French Catholic media reported.
The suspect, identified by the media as Emmanuel Abayisenga, 40, is also the main suspect of a criminal fire on Nantes Cathedral, in northwestern France, in July 2020.
The murder victim was named Bro. Olivier Maire, 60 years old, French provincial superior of the Missionaries Montfortains (the Company of Mary). His death was announcement on August 9 by the French Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin.
The Conference of Bishops of France and the Conference of Religious of France declared in a joint statement that the suspect “was living with Father Olivier Maire” in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, a town in the Vendée department, at the time of the murder.
A photograph taken on November 11, 2016, first publication by the French Catholic newspaper La Croix on July 15, showed a man identified as Abayisenga greeting Pope Francis during an audience with socially excluded people at the Vatican.
La Croix confirmed in its August 9 report on the murder of Father Mayor Abayisenga “had met Pope Francis in 2016 in Rome”.
The Pope is said to have met Abayisenga at a gathering for the European Festival of Joy and Mercy in the Paul VI Hall of the Vatican.
The event for socially excluded people was organized by the French organization Fratello, as part of the Jubilee of Mercy of the Catholic Church. About 3,600 people attended, many from France, Poland and Rome.
According to La Croix, Abayisenga traveled to Rome with a group from Nantes. He was under the protection of the local Christian community after arriving in the city in 2012, the Catholic newspaper said.
During the meeting, Pope Francis referred to a speech given by another member of the group who had traveled from Nantes.
“I was struck by the persistence of Christian’s use of the word ‘peace'”, the Pope noted. “And then he spoke of the peace and joy he felt when he started participating in the Nantes choir.”