Tag Archives: Algeria

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.

tea42

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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

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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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28 August: Algeria I: Reflection on Augustine as Pastor

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Saint Augustine of Hippo will keep on appearing in these pages! Today would be his feast if it were not Sunday, so we are spending the week with the Church in Algeria, his home country. Algeria is, of course, a Muslim country, with a small Christian population, largely in the towns and cities, and for the most part its members are expatriates.

During the French occupation there were many more Christians, and important churches were built, including the Basilica of Saint Augustine at Hippo which was restored recently, with help from the Algerian government and supporters around the world.

Algeria takes pride in this son of the land, witness this postage stamp! Follow the link below to read about the reopening of the basilica.

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Here is some of what Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, had to say about Augustine as pastor rather than theologian or philosopher:

 ‘Living together as believers, being confronted with the same problems and difficulties… this spontaneity of relations is at the bottom of all dialogue and interreligious dialogue is always founded on friendship: we must always strive to know one another, to love one another, to move forward together.

[The Algerian people] has taken responsibility for its history”. It has “recognized that Augustine was Algerian … and what an Algerian he was! A genius who bridged the gulf of the two Mediterranean coasts. Saint Augustine wrote some of the most beautiful pages of theology while the city of Hippo was under siege. At the same time, he showered his care on refugees of war. He was a pastor who followed the daily life of his flock.”

For the cardinal, the basilica of St. Augustine “is a powerful sign, especially in a Muslim country where prayer plays such an important role.” It reminds everyone that “Christians too, evident in the majesty of this church, praise the Lord, the one God, and that they are faithful to their responsibilities.” It also reminds us that “there is no future unless there is a shared future.”

He insisted that churches “must always remain open so that they may welcome those who are looking for the quiet to think and reflect, to pray, and to remind all citizens that man does not live on bread alone”.

St Augustine’s basilica, Hippo, Algeria

Photo of St Augustine’s basilica by Abcir

MMB.

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August 24: Reflections on Living Together, IV: Dying Together.

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The Martyrs’ Door Of the Basilica of St Maurice, with the names of  Pierre Claverie and Mohamed Bouchiki

In  Le Monde of July 28th, Jean-François Bouthors asks, ‘Are we capable of coming through this terrible trial without massacring the future?’ He looks to Francis of Assisi, who discovered great joy in renunciation, humility, courage and self-denial, but the joy these virtues instil is accompanied by suffering and the giving of one’s life for others.

Such giving can take many forms, Bouthors reminds us: the daily giving of one’s service of others but also the martyrdom of blood. We have already met Pierre Claverie and Bouchikhi, his friend and driver, killed just twenty years ago during the black years of civil war in Algeria. (See our post for July 30th: https://agnellusmirror.wordpress.com/2016/07/30/july-30-pierre-and-mohamed-martyrs-together/ )

The Cistercians of Tibéhirine had been assassinated a few months before this – their witness of living at peace with their Muslim neighbours an affront to the militants of that time, as it always will be. It is a living challenge to their rule-bound, rigid, fundamentalism.

Christians stayed in Algeria sharing their Muslim neighbours’ experience of the terror. That witness of  friendship, lived out in France by Fr Jacques Hamel, is all the more important today in our global village.

And, as in Algeria twenty years ago, so now across the world, Muslims are killed, tortured and exiled in greater numbers than Christians.

MMB.

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July 30: Pierre and Mohamed, Martyrs Together.

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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.

MMB

 

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April 22, Jerusalem VI: A Place of Prayer.

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Valencia Cathedral: Spot the baby photographs on Mary’s statue!

When popes visit Jerusalem they are shown before the Western Wall, praying and sliding tokens of their prayer between the stones. Do the stones that mark the place of God’s presence among his people still bring people closer to him, their prayers closer to his attention?

It’s by no means the only place where people leave tokens of their prayers, whether of intercession or thanksgiving.

Any devotion should be bound up in our worship of the Triune God and ‘in the vital Communion of Saints’  according to the Directory on Popular Piety (186), but Frs Marioge and Maurier welcomed pilgrims, Muslim and Christian, to the shrine of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers as its custodians. Pilgrims would offer tokens of the gift they sought or had received: flowers, embroidery, statues of newlyweds or babies. Maurier says they were responding to a ‘common religious source, inherent in every human conscience.’[1]

In Valencia Cathedral, Spain, Mary’s statue is visited by women wanting or thankful for children, leaving baby photographs in the folds of her robe. In Saint Omer, France, shoes are left on the tomb of Saint Erkembode, a missionary invoked for children with mobility problems.[2] Such shrines and wells are sacred ‘markers in space, time and society,’[3] where the Good News can be preached, directly and indirectly. (DPP274)

Often we can find in our local church a prayer board hung for petitions; this, or a statue or ikon can help us to perceive what we are really praying for.

MMB.

 

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020513_vers-direttorio_en.html
[1]Paul Marioge,  ‘Une Dévotion Mariale Populaire en Terre d’Islam.’ in Voix d’Afrique No 74, n.d. P1. At http://peres-blancs.cef.fr/devotion_mariale.htm
[3]Monika K Hellwig, ‘Holy Places in Christian Theology’ in Liturgy: Journal of the Liturgical Conference, 3.4, Fall 1983, pp9–14.

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