Cathedral Burning, Priest Killing Migrant Met with Pope Francis in 2016: Report

Emmanuel Abayisenga with Pope Francis, 2016
La Croix via Twitter

Emmanuel Abayisenga, the Rwandan migrant who confessed to setting fire to the Nantes Cathedral and to the murder of a 60-year-old priest, has been revealed to have met with Pope Francis in 2016.

An investigation from the French Catholic newspaper La Croix identified the Nantes Cathedral arsonist as having met with the pope during a trip to the Vatican in 2016.

A photo of the meeting between Abayisenga and the pontiff was shared on social media by French reporter Arnaud Bédat on Monday, following the reported murder confession.

Pope Francis has taken a pro-migration position during his tenure as the Bishop of Rome, launching a two-year campaign to lecture people on the hardships faced by migrants in order to advance a “shift in thinking” on the issue worldwide.

Last week the pope said in an address in Saint Peter’s Square: “Let us open our heart to refugees; let us make their sorrows and their joys our own; let us learn courageous resilience from them!”

“And in this way, all together, we will make a more human community grow, one big family,” the pontiff added.

In July, La Croix published an investigation into Emmanuel Abayisenga, who arrived illegally in the French city of Nantes in 2012 after leaving his native Rwanda. The report claimed that many believed that Abayisenga suffered from mental illness.

Several people interviewed by the paper claimed that his mental health further declined following his detention after setting fire to Nantes Cathedral on July 18, 2020.

On the day of the fire, Brother Jean-Luc recalled: “I told [Abayisenga] the cathedral had burned down. That day he didn’t have his usual gaze, he was like in another world. I didn’t want to disturb him any further.”

Abayisenga was taken in by Father Olivier Maire, who provided the migrant with shelter and food, despite the attack on the cathedral. On Monday, the Rwandan reportedly confessed to stabbing the priest to death.

President Emmanuel Macron wrote of the murdered priest: “He bore the generosity and love of the other even in the features of his face. On behalf of the Nation, I pay tribute to Father Olivier Maire. Warm thoughts for Montfortians and all Catholics in France. Protecting those who believe is a priority.”

The President of the Conference of the Bishops of France, Mgr Éric de Moulins, said: “He will have lived following Christ to the end, in the unconditional welcome of all. While waiting for the more complete elements that the investigation will bring, I pray for his family, his religious brothers. I pray for all the population traumatized by this tragedy, for their murderer too, in great psychological drift at the very least.”

Following the reported confession of the stabbing of the 60-year-old Father Olivier Maire, the leader of the populist right-wing National Rally party, Marine Le Pen, wrote: “In France, it is, therefore, possible to be illegal, to set fire to the cathedral, never to be expelled, and to re-offend by murdering a priest.

“What is happening in our country is of unprecedented gravity: it is the complete bankruptcy of the State and of [Minister of the Interior] Gérald Darmanin.”

For his part, Mr Darmanin denied that it was possible to deport the Rwandan migrant, claiming: “This foreigner was not deportable despite his deportation order as long as his judicial control was not lifted.”

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