Putting on an apron, as Jesus did: that can be as serious and solemn as giving one’s life … and vice-versa, giving one’s life can be as simple as putting on an apron.
Blessed Christian de Chergé, Martyr of Algeria.
Tag Archives: Algeria
This Lent we invite you to stand at the foot of the Cross of Jesus. During the last fortnight we will follow the Way of the Cross with Saint Peter, one station per day, ending on Easter Sunday. But before that we have pieces from regular and guest writers in a series called ‘Before the Cross’. Our contributors will put before us images that tell of the death of Jesus and their reflections on their chosen image, and how it helps explain what Cross of Christ means. Not that we can ever explain it.
We begin in Africa. This picture came from the Church in Algeria and shows one of the bishops and a priest present at the beatification of the 19 recent Martyrs of Algeria, with a banner showing the Martyrs’ faces. To the left, a processional cross which the clergy followed on the way to the ceremony. The figure of Christ is almost invisible at this magnitude, as the Church is almost invisible in Algerian society much of the time, but its members are still bearing witness.
We should remember that many Imams who opposed the Islamist terrorists, as well as thousands of ordinary Muslims, were killed in those years, including Bishop Claverie’s chauffeur and friend Mohamed. Their names are recorded together on the great doors of the Abbey of Saint Maurice in Switzerland.
The text below comes from the Missionaries of Africa’s Voix d’Afrique N°102.
At the beginning of Lent in 1996, Bishop Pierre Claverie wrote an editorial for his diocesan newsletter entitled ‘Living and Dying.’
Along with tens of thousands of Algerians, we are facing a menace which sometimes, despite all our precautions, becomes very real. Many people ask themselves – and ask us too – why we insist on remaining so exposed. This is the radical question of our death and of the meaning of our life. God gave us life and we have no right to play Russian roulette with it, risking it for no purpose. Rather we have a duty to preserve it and to foster the conditions needed for it to be balanced, and healthy and fruitful.
We are preparing ourselves to join Christ on the way to his Passion and Cross. Could we not reproach Jesus for having deliberately challenged those who had the power to condemn him? Why did he not flee as he had done before when they wanted to kill him?
The Paschal Mystery obliges us to face the reality of Christ’s death and of our own, and to take stock of why we face it. Jesus did not seek out his death. But neither did he want to run away from it, since he judged that fidelity to his Father’s commands and to the coming of his Kingdom was more important than his fear of death. He chose to follow the logic of his life and mission to the end rather than betray what he was, what he had said, and what he had done, by denying or abandoning them in order to escape the final confrontation.
In every life there come moments when our choices reveal what is in us and what we are made of. There are usually the dark times. It is possible to live for a long time while avoiding this unveiling of the truth. However far we run, or how long we hide, we will have to face this moment of truth. Jesus teaches us to look this moment in the eye and not evade it. Whether it be gentle or violent, we must learn to live our death as the weight we carry through life.
+ Pierre Claverie
Here to mark the feast of Saint Augustine is a story from his native land of Algeria, where the Missionaries of Africa have been present for more than 100 years. Their society is 150 years old this year.
Precious volumes and photographs testifying to the history of the Christian presence, but also courses in English and French and IT: all this is found at the Cultural Centre of the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa) in Ouargla, a city in eastern Algeria, at the service of the local, mainly Muslim, community, in this city of the desert.
The Cultural Centre is rooted in history. In 1875 the first White Father missionaries were sent here to find only a French military garrison and a handful of Berber hovels. Besides providing religious assistance for the soldiers, the White Fathers started to learn the local languages. At the same time they collected ancient books, scrolls and took photographs.
Over the years the missionaries catalogued the growing heritage which becomes a memory for the region and for the whole of Algeria. The photographs in particular bear witness to the different stages of a Christian presence which is ever more closely linked with the local population. “From the early years of colonisation down to our day – says Fr. Aldo Giannasi, a White Father missionary who lived and served in Ouargla – the Algerians viewed the Church as a continuation of the French political and cultural invasion. Today a change is taking place: the majority of priests and other church workers are from Black Africa, which clearly shows that the Church is not connected with France or with the West, or the powerful people of the world. She is Catholic, that is universal, and at the service of all”.
Ouargla too has changed. The military base is now an important Oil hub. The small village has become a city. The Cultural Centre still stands in the qasbah. As the years passed the structure deteriorated. The windows and doors were old and the desert sand was beginning to penetrate the rooms. Shelves, tables, chairs were old and needed to be replaced. The White Fathers thought of moving to the outskirts, but decided to stay in the original place and embark on its refurbishing.
Today the Centre hosts boys and girls, mostly Muslims, who study and use the library. Here they find a patrimony of books: history, geography, sociology, ethnology, religion and Christian spirituality. However the Centre has also become a focal point for the rest of the city because students find help with research and local people take courses in French, English, IT. “Our structure – concludes Fr Giannasi – bears witness to an active presence of Catholics at the service of Algeria, committed to a cultural mission which is a fruit-bearing seed of the Gospel” (Fides 4/4/2018).
The Algerian stamps show St Augustine and a Christian inscription from his time.
Picture from Missionaries of Africa, West Africa.
This statue of Mary is at Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, a modern, West African expression of the crowned statue of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers. But our reflection is by Père Paul Marioge M.Afr., formerly rector of that Basilica, and it appeared in French at Voix d’Afrique, No 74.
Fr Marioge explains that he was surprised to ‘find himself the rector of a basilica visited by so many faithful Muslims, greatly disturbed by the evils of terrorism and feeling a spontaneous need to approach Heaven and implore Mary’s protection. I took things as they were: my mission was to help the people who came, creatures, every one, of the same God, our creator and merciful saviour.’
People come to Our Lady of Africa as they might go to Lourdes, with everything they are carrying in their heart: a great pain or suffering of body or mind; someone sick wants to be healed; or maybe it’s their child who was ill, or else they don’t have a child and they want one; or they only have boys but still want a little girl – or vice versa; a battered wife, maybe; or else a pilgrim comes who finds himself without work, without resources; or again he wants to pass an exam; and then there are the young people who love each other, who come to confide in Mary their heartbreak, their desire for a happy marriage.
Those who come are the human race of every age and from every land.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Monastery of Notre Dame d’Atlas, Tibhirine: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monastere_de_tibhirine.jpg by Gamecult