Pope Francis celebrates a memorial Mass in 2016 for Fr. Jacques Hamel in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican. The Archdiocese of Rouen has concluded a formal inquiry into the cause for beatification of Fr. Hamel, who was killed while celebrating Mass in July 2016. (CNS, L’Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Archdiocese of Rouen concluded its sainthood inquiry into the life and death of a French priest who was killed while celebrating Mass.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen presided over the final session of the diocesan inquiry into the life and martyrdom of Fr. Jacques Hamel, Vatican News reported March 9.

Fr. Hamel was killed July 26, 2016, when two men stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen while he celebrated Mass. After taking several hostages, the attackers slit Fr. Hamel’s throat and seriously injured another parishioner. Following a standoff, police killed the attackers, ending the hostage situation.

Fr. Jacques Hamel is seen during a church service June 11, 2016 in this handout photo from his parish in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France. He was killed by two attackers July 26 of that year. Vatican News reported March 9 that the Archdiocese of Rouen concluded its sainthood inquiry into the life and death of a French priest who was killed while celebrating Mass. (CNS, Paroisse Saint-Etienne, via EPA)

Traditionally, the formal sainthood process, which includes compiling the candidate’s writings and gathering sworn testimonies about his or her life and holiness, can begin no sooner than five years after the person’s death.

However, Pope Francis set aside the restriction and allowed for the French priest’s sainthood cause to begin in 2017, customary when it is believed the candidate is a martyr for the faith.

The inquiry gathered the testimony of 66 witnesses, including five people who witnessed Fr. Hamel’s murder. The documentation from the diocesan inquiry will be sent to the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, which reviews the gathered information.

Pope Francis has on several occasions recognized Fr. Hamel’s holiness and cited him as an example of courage who gave his life for others throughout his life as priest until his brutal murder.

The pope celebrated a special requiem Mass for the slain priest several months after his death in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae. Among those present at the Mass were Archbishop Lebrun, Fr. Hamel’s sister, Roselyne Hamel, as well as 80 pilgrims from the diocese.

Archbishop Lebrun said he had brought a photo of Fr. Hamel and asked Pope Francis to sign it with a note for three religious women who had been with Fr. Hamel at Mass that day.

Instead of signing the photo before Mass, the pope “immediately told me to put it on the altar,” the archbishop told reporters later. “At the end of Mass, when he was greeting everyone, he signed it and said to me, ‘You can put this photo in the church because he is “blessed” now, and if anyone says you aren’t allowed, tell them the pope gave you permission.’”

— By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service.