The body of a man, who happens to be a priest, was discovered in the Vendée region of France on Monday, shortly before a man of Rwandan origin went to a police station to claim responsibility for the crime. Who is this Rwandan, and what do we know about him?
In the middle of the morning of Monday, August 9, 2021, a man came to the gendarmerie of Mortagne-sur-Sèvre to give himself up, claiming to have killed a priest, who died following a blow to the head. The first elements of the investigation indicate that the suspect still does not explain his gesture but has recognized the facts: the murder of the religious man from Besançon, Olivier Maire.
According to the words of the French Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, on Twitter, the alleged perpetrator of the murder is named Emmanuel A., a Rwandan who does not have a clean criminal record, since he has already been accused of setting fire to the cathedral of Nantes, in July 2020, while he was a volunteer in the diocese of the city for three years. Placed in provisional detention at the time, he was released under judicial supervision.
A Rwandan who came to France as a refugee eight years ago, Emmanuel A. comes from a Hutu family, some of whose members participated in the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994.
Reports indicate that his father was executed in retaliation when he returned to his home village. In France, Emmanuel A. was denied asylum and was ordered to leave French territory four times.
The victim is believed to be Olivier Maire, a 60-year-old priest who was a member of the Saint-Montfort religious community in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre and had been harboring the alleged murderer for several months.
The open investigation, which has been entrusted to the Gendarmerie group of the Vendée and to the research section of the Gendarmerie of Nantes, will undoubtedly tell us more.
Religious world pays homage to the murdered priest
Tributes are pouring in, especially from religious leaders, after the announcement of the murder of Father Olivier Maire in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, in the Vendée. The suspect, a Rwandan refugee already responsible for burning the cathedral in Nantes, has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Hospitalized in psychiatry during the month of July, Emmanuel Abayisenga, the Rwandan migrant responsible for the burning of the cathedral in Nantes in July 2020, returned at the end of the same month to the Montfort community in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, in the north of the Vendée region, which had been hosting him since May, after his 10 months in pre-trial detention. Ten days later, he murdered his host, 61-year-old Father Olivier Maire.
“He is a very generous man with whom the diocese collaborated a lot, and appreciated by all,” reacted this Monday on LCI the bishop of Luçon, Bishop François Jacolin.
“Christ asked us to be at the service and help of those who are often disturbed,” he explained, lamenting that the priest was “a victim of his generosity.”
“He was a specialist in our spirituality,” Santino Brembilla, Superior General of the Montfort Fathers, a community of which Olivier Maire had been the provincial superior for ten years, said on BFM TV.
“He was truly a priest, a religious, a missionary, a person of great value,” he added.
Founded in 1705, the congregation’s mission was to evangelize western France’s countryside and then expand to some thirty countries.
France Bleu says the victim was from Besançon. He wanted to become religious at a very young age and became close to the Montfortain order. Under their advice, he first studied biology, did his military service in Haiti, then obtained a thesis in theology in Rome. Ordained a priest in 1990, he did training in Uganda for several years. He returned permanently to France in 2011.
Many other religious representatives spoke on Monday. “He will have lived in the following of Christ until the end, in the unconditional welcome of all,” commented Monsignor de Moulins-Beaufort, archbishop of the diocese of Rheims.
“Pain and incomprehension at the murder of Father Olivier Maire,” said Father Hugues de Woillemont, secretary-general of the French Bishops’ Conference.
“The Catholic Church has once again been struck by a terrible tragedy, even though it was carrying out one of its most beautiful missions, welcoming people,” lamented Haïm Korsia, the chief rabbi of France.
“Attacking a man of religion is unbearable”, insists Haziz Chems-Eddine, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris.
Gérald Darmanin, who visited the scene on Monday, acknowledged that the suspect had been subject to three obligations to leave the territory, already before the fire of the cathedral of Nantes. Two of these decisions were overturned by the administrative court of Nantes. The last one, dated 2019, was still to be processed by the same court.
Despite his guilt in the fire, his deportation could not take place because of his release under judicial supervision, providing for the prohibition for him to leave the national territory pending his judgment. Such a measure has been in force “for at least 30 years”, the minister assured.