Tag Archives: Africa

23 December: Wise Words from Saint Augustine for the Festive Season

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Don’t worry! I am not sending you to a difficult theological treatise or a long sermon. Instead, let’s sit down at table with Augustine. His biographer, Possidius tells us:

He always showed hospitality… He had this inscription on his table:

Who injures the name of an absent friend

May not at this table as guest attend.

Cited in Christianity in Africa, the first seven centuries,
Dominique Arnauld, STS Publications, Jerusalem, 2015, p464.

Wise words indeed as we approach ever closer to the celebration of Christ’s coming and the festive meal. Pour a cup of tea and think about it! Happy Christmas!

MMB.

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24 November: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: XVII, A Hagiographical Foray

 

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Though ‘T’ and the Chihuahuas had been all unaware, the day of their visit to the monastery at Minton was the feast of St. Domniva, its foundress. In the course of the various services they attended throughout their stay and by recourse to some fragments of conversation had with a few of the more knowledgeable of the nuns, ‘T’ and the Chihuahuas were able to piece together bits of her fascinating story. It seemed that Domniva (before she became a saint) had been a princess of one of the royal Anglo-Saxon houses and a renowned world traveler. There was a massive amount of (circumstantial) evidence indicating that one of her journeys may have even taken her- along with a sizeable entourage since she was, after all, a princess- to sub-Saharan Africa. It was there that she discovered a rare and wonderful animal in the sprawling market of a nameless and long-vanished city called a dik-dik. Smitten by its elegant grace, the noble Domniva purchased the animal for a magnificent sum and brought it back with her when she returned to the foggy shores of East Kent.

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The dik-dik appeared as a perfectly formed young deer…except that its coat of dense fur was a soft, buff-gray peppered with nearly invisible spots. For all that the magnificent animal resembled a member of any number of herds ranging the length and breadth of the Five Kingdoms, it only stood around six inches tall; a miniature version of its British cousins with ebony hoofs no larger than the tip of its mistress’ forefinger. Used to a much warmer clime in the dense acacia forests of its African homeland, it nevertheless also was able to appreciate the overgrown nature of the English countryside (and nearly all of England was countryside in the late seventh century) and, discovering that a brisk frisk was an excellent way to dodge the chill, it soon began to thrive. Everyone who saw it fell instantly in love. Perhaps, the dik-dik should not be referred to as an ‘it’ since it was a young stag, sporting a full rack of arching antlers, and proudly answered to the name Boanerges, which the Lady Domniva had given it.

At some point in time there was a blood feud, as seemed so common among royalty then and now and, in order to make things right, the king of Kent decided to build a monastery. Fortunately for the king, the Lady Domniva had also become very pious and wished to retire from the tiresome frivolities of life at court. And so it was settled- Domniva would found the monastery and serve as its first abbess. A site was duly chosen on the shore of the mighty Wansum river, which, bisecting a large mass of land, created the Isle of Thanet. It was then that the dik-dik established himself forever in the annals of England and lore of the great southeast.

To be continued

TJH

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2 October: Guardian Angels

If it were not Sunday, this would be the feast of the Guardian Angels.

People who are sceptical about angels should bear in mind scientists’ speculation about parallel – or is it intersecting universes? Talk of angels as ‘pure spirits’ and I’m lost; if they exist in some parallel universe, they are almost completely different to us. Almost, but not quite. If, as Jesus tells his disciples, children have guardian angels, they must have ways to relate to their charges.

See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 18:10

Fr Gerald Scriven M.Afr. wrote a series of children’s books, now very dated, about an apprentice guardian angel nicknamed Wopsy. His first posting was to a small boy somewhere in Africa. One sentence struck me as worth sharing today:

Wopsy wasn’t a bit afraid of devils, for whom he had a great contempt, quite out of proportion to his size.

From: Wopsy, Adventures of a Guardian Angel, at http://www.thepelicans.co.uk/mc11.htm

Whether you believe you have a guardian angel or not, pray for the courage to face evil or sin, however it presents itself, and the wisdom to know what to do about it. And thank God for the times you’ve been kept safe in body, mind or spirit, perhaps well against the odds, as humans see things.

For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up: lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.

Psalm 90.

And pray that, unlike Cain, (Genesis 4:9) we may be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers or indeed guardians.

MMB.

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17 September: Dialogue, Missionary Style.

I was with a Missionary of Africa, fifty years a priest, mostly in Northern Ghana, where both faiths live side-by-side.

‘Always, if I wanted to do something, I would go to the mosque and I would talk to the Imam, and be seen talking to the Imam. Do nothing without telling him, then he knows you are not trying to undermine him or his people. Always, always  Muslims are included, try to do nothing separately, be sure that the whole community can benefit.

‘Do not confine your work only to the poorest. You could be seen as undermining the better-off, especially if some of them are Muslim and see the poor Christians or traditional believers being helped, becoming organised, as a threat. Always be open.

Today, in my prison work in Holland, I share an office with the Muslim chaplain. I insisted, yes. Our door is always open. The prisoners walk by – many of them are Moroccan – they see us laughing together, they stop, they think, ‘What is this?’

We are all called to be missionaries, as Pope Francis insists, so stop, think, ‘What are we doing, what should we be doing, as witnesses to Christ among our neighbours?’

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12 September Eid-ul-Adha: The Holy Day of the Sacrifice.

sourate2-196-98b75 Surah II, 196. Al-Baqarah (The Cow)
‘Perform the pilgrimage and the visit (to Mecca) for Allah. And if ye are prevented, then send such gifts as can be obtained with ease, and shave not your heads until the first have reached their destination.

And whoever among you is sick or hath an ailment of the head must pay a ransom of fasting or almsgiving or offering. And if ye are in safety, then whosoever contenteth himself with the visit for the pilgrimage (shall give) such gifts as can be had with ease. And whosoever cannot find (such gifts) then a fast of three days while on the pilgrimage, and of seven when ye have returned, that is, ten in all.

That is for him whose folk are not present at the Inviolable Place of Worship. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is severe in punishment.’

The Holy Day of the Sacrifice: Aïd al Adha or Aïd el Kébir

Commonly called the ‘Eid-ul-Kabir’ (the Great Festival) in North Africa, it is also called ‘Tabaski’ in West Africa, ‘Tafaska’ among the Berber and ‘Kurban Bayrami’ in Turkey.
Eid-ul-Adha (the Festival of the Sacrifice) is one of the most important Muslim Festivals. Each year, it marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca and takes place on the 10th day of the month of Dou Al Hijja, the last month of the Muslim calendar. This year, the Festival is celebrated on the 12th September 2016 (in France). We are in the 1437th year since the Hegira of Mohammed to Medina. It lasts 4 days and is celebrated throughout the world. It is the Great (kabir) Festival of the Muslim world.

This Festival commemorates the submission to God of the Patriarch Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his son at his command (Ishmael, according to Muslim tradition, or Isaac according to the Bible; the Koran does not make the name of the son explicit.)

On the eve of Eid-ul-Kabir, everything is purified; houses are cleaned from top to bottom; every cloth, down to the smallest duster, is conscientiously laundered.

Every Muslim family according to their means, sacrifice an animal (a ewe, goat, sheep, cow or camel) by slitting its throat while laid on its left flank, the head towards Mecca. A portion of the meat from this sacrifice will benefit the most destitute among the Muslims, thus asserting the solidarity and mutual assistance prescribed by Allah.

It is a day of reconciliation, where each one is invited to pardon whoever wronged him.

THE CALENDAR OF MUSLIM FESTIVALS

The dates listed are subject to a variation of one or two days according to the visibility of the moon in different regions. These festivities may provide the opportunity to our Christian communities to offer their good wishes for the festival to our Muslim neighbours, especially if there is a Muslim place of worship in the same locality.

This post is copied from the Missionaries of Africa’s website , where you can learn more about Islam and Christianity.                                                                                                                                                   MMB.

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September 3: Algeria VII: Testament of Dom Christian

This is a long post, but I could not see how to shorten the Last Testament of Christian de Cherge, the martyred Prior of Notre Dame d’Atlas. Every word counts. Islam is not islamism. Muslims are God’s children, our sisters and brothers.

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Window at Llanthony, Brecon, Wales. 

When an “A-Dieu” takes on a face.

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—

that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf

all the foreigners living in Algeria,

I would like my community, my Church, my family,

to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

I ask them to accept that the Sole Master of all life

was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I ask them to pray for me—

for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to be able to link this death with the many other deaths which were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other.

Nor any less value.

In any case it has not the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil

which seems, alas, to prevail in the world,

even in that which would strike me blindly.

I should like, when the time comes, to have the moment of lucidity

which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God

and of my fellow human beings,

and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death.

It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice

if the people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder.

To owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be,

would be too high a price to pay for what will, perhaps, be called, the “grace of martyrdom,”

especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on Algerians indiscriminately.

I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain islamism encourages.

It is too easy to salve one’s conscience

by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received from it,

finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel,

learnt at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,

already in Algeria itself, in the respect of believing Muslims.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify

those who hastily judged me naive, or idealistic:

“Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!”

But these people must realise that my avid curiosity will then be satisfied.

This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—

immerse my gaze in that of the Father,

and contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them,

all shining with the glory of Christ,

the fruit of His Passion, and filled with the Gift of the Spirit,

whose secret joy will always be to establish communion

and to refashion the likeness, playfully delighting in the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,

I thank God who seems to have willed it entirely

for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything.

In this thank you, which sums up my whole life to this moment,

I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,

and you, my friends of this place,

along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,

the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And also you, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing.

Yes, I also say this Thank You and this A-Dieu to you, in whom I see the face of God.

And may we find each other, happy good thieves, in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen. (In sha ‘Allah).

Algiers, December 1, 1993—Tibhirine, January 1, 1994.

Christian.

Testament of Dom Christian

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September 2: Algeria VI: Pax et Concordia

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In Deo Pax et Concordia

This postage stamp was issued by Algeria to commemorate an international conference on Saint Augustine. It shows a 4th Century Mosaic from the Roman Port city of Tipasa, some 40 miles from Algiers, a work of art from Augustine’s time.

All those fish recall Chapter 21 of Saint John’s Gospel where the risen Jesus tells the disciples, who have been fishing all night and caught nothing, to try once more, and they haul in 153 big fish.

The mosaic dates from before Islam, when what is now Algeria was part of the Roman Empire. It is clearly Christian, with the ChiRo symbol in the top centre. (It looks like an X with a P, the Greek letters K and R, short for Christ.)

The inscription means: In God may Peace and Concord be what we share.

May Peace and Concord be what we share with each other, with every sister and brother. And may Peace and Concord be a mark of Algeria and her people.

 

 

 

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September 1, Algeria V: Love them sincerely and profoundly

henri marchal

The Church in Algeria, despite Colonial Governments’ intermittent hostility to it, always refused to be simply a chaplaincy to French settlers who were not secularists. It insisted on respect for the Muslim faith of the vast majority of the population. Cardinal Lavigerie, who as Archbishop of Algiers founded the Missionaries of Africa in 1868, would doff his hat and bow as he passed a mosque, to respect the prayer offered there.

A twentieth century Missionary of Africa, Henri Marchal, developed the policy of the founder towards Muslims. He insisted in 1945, after some forty years in Algeria, that:

“To make use of our superior knowledge, of our extensive culture to overwhelm the masses, to show them the falseness of their beliefs and the truth of our own, to shake their convictions by sowing doubt in their mind… would be to use practices which Muslims would immediately seize upon as having an ulterior goal and motive which they would not easily forgive, since they would see in it an attack on their religion, a dishonest undertaking to undermine their convictions in order to snatch them from the good that they prize above all else, their Muslim faith, their dignity and privilege of being believers, their unbreakable cohesion in Islam.

“To have an influence on the population, it is necessary to love these people, to love them sincerely and profoundly, and to love in this manner we need to recall in the presence of each one, in our way of approaching him and dealing with him, that Jesus shed his blood for him. We have to win their hearts by our witness of goodness which is always one of welcome.

“The Church, in directing souls to God and leading them on the road to salvation, does not turn their exterior lives inside out but rather transforms their interior lives. That is why the ‘return to God’ of a whole people will in no way mean its denial or the abandonment of its own civilisation and the adoption of a civilisation or culturewhich is alien to it.”

  • May Church and Society in Britain be welcoming to all migrants who come here.
  • See: Gérard Demeerseman, M.Afr: Henri Marchal 1875-1957: ‘An Apostolic Approach to the Algerian World’, pp61-62, 74. On-line text PDF

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Algeria IV: 31 August: The Eucharist in Algeria.

 

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The Eucharist in Algeria: Gabriel Piroird, Bishop of Constantine, at the Synod of Bishops, 2005.

We are unique churches, very much in the minority in a world where Islam has stamped its mark on the culture. Our communities are dispersed across the vast spaces of our dioceses, and it is unavoidable that many live far from any sort of priestly presence, so that they can only participate in the Liturgy very infrequently. This situation has led us to deepen the link between the Eucharist and Mission:

– Our thanksgiving is joined to that of our Muslim friends who also praise God for his work of creation and mercy. Spiritually we incorporate their prayers into our Eucharist.
– We are filled with wonder at times to witness that our Muslim friends are somehow associated with the Paschal Mystery. Whenever we come to add our lives to the offering of Christ, we also add, in a certain way, the lives of our friends.

– In so far as they cannot participate in the Eucharist celebration very often, certain Christians give more time to Eucharistic Adoration where they rediscover a palpably real presence that strengthens their daily lives.
– Our Eucharistic celebrations, all unseen, gather in a people who are yet absent: those who seek God in the honesty of their hearts.

Any particular Church must find a way to live out the Eucharist that is not divorced from its history among the people to whom it has been given by the Lord.

Original French text on Vatican website

Photo by Fabrice Blaudin de Thé

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30 August: Algeria III: Muslim martyrs for their Christian brothers.

 

The great doors to the ancient Abbey of St Maurice in Switzerland, celebrating its 1500th year in 2015, bear the names of Christian martyrs. There are the Apostles; there are the Africans of the Theban Legion, led by Maurice himself, martyred on this spot. Becket and Boniface represent England.

door st Maurice

From Saint Maurice’s home continent of Africa, among the martyrs of Algeria, next to the name of Bishop Pierre Claverie we read that of Mohamed Bouchikhi, his driver, assassinated with him. After them come the monks (moines) of Notre Dame d’Atlas at Tibhirine. Christian de Chergé, martyred Prior of the monastery, told how his friend, an Algerian policeman also named Mohamed, had been killed after intervening to protect him from aggressors in the street.

These two Mohameds gave their lives for their Christian friends – as de Chergé said, the greatest token of love a man could give. They accepted the gift of quiet presence and service offered by the Church in post-Colonial Algeria. Countless other Muslims continue to do so and to make Christians welcome in their communities.

MMB.

Monastery of Notre Dame d’Atlas, Tibhirine: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monastere_de_tibhirine.jpg by Gamecult

 

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