The great doors of the ancient Abbey of Saint Maurice in Switzerland are modern but in keeping with what is a place of martyrdom. Here the soldiers Maurice, Victor and their companions were martyred for not obeying unjust orders. They were Roman Africans from what is now the Egypt-Sudanese border.
The doors bear the names of martyrs down the ages. On this panel we see, among others, Saint Oscar Romero, the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, and Bishop Pierre Claverie and his driver and handiman, Mohamed Bouchikhi. The story of the monks has been told in the film Of Gods and Men, but Pierre and Mohamed are less well-know, at least in English speaking circles. I invite you to remember them today as they were killed on August 1, 1996 – just twenty years ago.
Pierre Claverie OP was born in Algeria, though living in the French Community there, he had little contact with the Muslim majority. His Dominican vocation brought him back to the now independent land of his birth, living much closer to the ordinary people. He was appointed Bishop of Oran in 1981. He remained at his post during the upheavals of the following years, and was awaiting Algerian citizenship at the time of his death.
Intolerant Islamists set a booby trap bomb outside his home; the blood of Pierre and Mohamed was mingled together, two sons of Algeria, two brothers, two sons of Adam.
Mohamed and many other Muslims have accepted the gift of quiet presence and service offered by the Church in post-Colonial Algeria, and continue to do so and to make Christians welcome in their communities.
St Maurice is a place of Pilgrimage for Africans who gather to remember their martyrs on the nearest weekend to the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda in June.