Pope agrees to expedite sainthood process for murdered priest

October 2, 2016 1:18 PM EDT

Pope Francis arrives at the Heydar Aliyev Center for a meeting with the authorities in Baku, Azerbaijan, October 2, 2016. REUTERS/Luca Zennaro/Pool

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PARIS (Reuters) - Pope Francis has put a French priest knifed to death at his altar by Islamist militants in July on the fast track to possible sainthood, the Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun said on Sunday.

At a special mass designed to purify the church where 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel was killed, Archbishop Lebrun said Pope Francis had set aside the period normally imposed after someone's death before the process of beatification can start.

"Pope Francis has waived the five-year delay before a sainthood process can begin," Lebrun told hundreds of people at the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, in northwest France.

Usually a miracle needs to have been declared for a candidate for sainthood to be beatified. But that requirement can be waived if there is evidence that the person died a martyr.

Last month, during a mass in memory of the dead priest, Francis used the words martyr or martyrdom 10 times in his homily at the Vatican.

In early July, two attackers stormed into the church in Saint-√Čtienne-du-Rouvray, forced the elderly priest to his knees and slit his throat while they chanted in Arabic.

The priest's murder by French citizens came just 12 days after a Tunisian who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State drove his truck through a crowd of Bastille Day revelers in Nice, killing 84.

(Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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