Tag Archives: Algeria

Remembering The Algerian Martyrs.

Bishop Claude Rault M Afr was bishop of the Sahara before retiring. He knew most of the Algerian Martyrs whom we have reflected on before. Their feast day was May 8th, and Bishop Claude preached this homily in Paris. What do you think makes someone a saint?

Here are Vincent Somboro’s reflections on Christian Mission in Algeria today. And here the reflections of Blessed Pierre Claverie, one of the martyrs.

beatification

A banner of the blessed martyrs at the beatification ceremony in Algeria.

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10 February: What was it you went out to see – at Lourdes.

mary petitions pix venice

This statue in Venice is very like that of Mary at Lourdes, and as we see, it is surrounded by passport photos and little notes, petitions and thank-yous. We saw a similar crop of photographs around the statue of Our Lady of Valencia.  The Basilica of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers also receives photos and notes from Muslims as well as Christians.

Prayer, we were taught at school, is the raising of the heart and mind to God, but it is also a physical activity. Sitting, kneeling, bowing, walking or riding on pilgrimage, even the physical act of going to the parish church of a Sunday; any of these can enable us to raise our hearts and minds to God.

So prayer can be going to church and leaving a prayer request  on a board or in a basket. Or leaving a prayer request before the tomb of a saint, or in this case a statue. We can ask for the prayers of the Church,  not just the Church on earth today but also the saints triumphant who have all the time in eternity to pray for us: Mary included.

Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. What are people seeking there? Can it be put into words? Perhaps peace and healing of the heart and mind, if not of the body, is what I hear most often as the gift of the pilgrimage. An on-going process, not always to be rushed.

Those who leave photos or candles in front of Mary’s statue commend their loved ones to our prayers as well as Mary’s: let us pray then for all who will make the Lourdes pilgrimage this year, as sick pilgrims or helpers, and for all who ask our prayers, directly or through such gestures as we see in this photograph.

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12 October, Month of Mission: A worthless servant in Algeria.

taize algeria

Another visit to Algeria and a taste of a prophetic mission.

My name is Vincent Somboro. I am a Malian, a dogon from the Diocese of Mopti, right in the centre of West Africa, and I am preparing to be a Missionary of Africa. After studying Philosophy for 3 years in Burkina Faso, then completing my novitiate year in Zambia, I was appointed to a community of Missionaries of Africa in Ghardaia, Algeria, for a two year lived-experience of Mission. I have been here for one year now. Algeria is a Muslim country and religion is absolutely central to its daily life. I count myself very lucky to be working amongst a people for whom God and religion are still so important. As Christians here, our life is one of discreet dialogue. It can happen that I talk with certain people about religion, but this would only be with people who want to convert me to Islam. I build my life as a Christian on Our Lord’s words, “whatever you do to one of these little ones, you do to me!” and still I remain “a worthless servant who is only doing his duty.”

I live this life in different places. In a library; in a centre for handicapped children; in meeting migrants and anyone else the Lord puts in my path. In the library: as well as being the librarian in charge of books, I give extra help to both children and adults who are learning English or French. It is really the only place where I can meet Algerians: coming into contact with Algerian society in a more informal way.

Once a week I play sports with the children in a centre for the handicapped. This simple interaction, being with the children, with no agenda other than being there with them, brings me great pleasure.

Being a Malian, an African, is also a great advantage when it comes to contact with migrants. Meeting migrants affords me a marvellous opportunity to serve my African brothers and sisters. This is a challenge which preoccupies me greatly, and it is doubly useful: in the context of Algeria, I am able to be both a missionary and a prophet.

I am a missionary because the migrants really feel at home when they come to our house. A confrere and I, between us, speak Moore, Hausa and Bambara. This covers most of West Africa. As fellow Africans, we are living the same reality in Algeria as they are.

I am a prophet because, as an African, I yearn for our home countries to come up with structures to help our young people, helping them struggle against famine and war, and against the desire driving our youth to get to Europe no matter the cost. I feel troubled and challenged when I see young people crossing deserts to get to Algeria, hoping to cross the seas to Italy and Spain. I see the religious and cultural divides, the injustice and the racism that they encounter. I thank God for my experience here.

Vincent Somboro.

From the White Fathers Magazine, February 2017.

Taizé celebration in Tlemcen

https://www.missionariesofafrica.org.uk/

 

 

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10 October, Month of Mission, humbly at their service.

door st Maurice

The Month of Mission gives us another chance to reflect on the Martyrs of Algeria, beatified on December 8 last year. The Martyrs’ Door at the Abbey of Saint Maurice, Switzerland, unites the names of Bishop Pierre Claverie and Mohamed Bouchikhi, his driver and friend, who died with him in a bomb attack. We should remember that many Muslims, including imams, were also killed by the fundamentalist rebels.

We share part of a reflection by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, Missionary of Africa, taken from the February 2019 White Fathers magazine.

I knew them all … The four Missionaries of Africa who were martyred at the town of Tizi-Ouzou were all very different: Alain Dieulangard, involved in the charismatic movement; Charles Deckers, practical, adapting well to local conditions; Jean Chevillard, a born leader; Christian Chessel, the young intellectual.

They were nevertheless united, for they had all drunk from the same source: the instructions that Cardinal Lavigèrie had given to the Missionaries of Africa: love those to whom one has been sent, make an effort to learn their language and speak it well, get to know and appreciate their traditions and customs, show respect for their religious beliefs, put oneself humbly at their service in all sorts of ways – all of these aspects of the spirit of Lavigèrie could be found in these four men, each one in his own way. The testimonies of both Christians and Muslims confirm this.

It can be added to this that all four were deeply spiritual persons, men of prayer, who wanted to serve the Lord and not their own interests. This is why they felt very much at ease within the project of the Church of Algeria which Bishop Claverie described in the following way: “We are, and we want to be, missionaries of God’s love, that love which we have discovered in Jesus Christ. This love, infinitely respectful of human beings, does not impose itself, does not impose anything in fact, bringing no force to bear on consciences or hearts. With gentleness, and by its very presence, it frees whatever is bound in chains, it reconciles that which is torn apart, it raises up that which is crushed, brings new life where there was no hope and no strength”.

In a reflection written one month before his death Christian Chessel tried to provide a synthesis of this approach in what he called “Mission in weakness”. “To recognize, welcome, and accept one’s own weakness would seem to be a necessary, inevitable, preliminary step,” he wrote, “especially for a missionary”. This allows one to forge with those men and women to whom one has been sent relations characterized by an absence of power, or, according to another favourite expression of Christian, “by the language of discreta caritas”.

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5 May: Peter’s rebirth.

misericord.boat.st.davids

Bishop Gabriel Piroird, Bishop Emeritus of Oran and Hippo in Algeria, died on April 3, his family at his side, and following a long visit from his friend and fellow Bishop in Algeria, Henri Teissier. Here we publish an extract from an article  (written in  French) on the Church in Algeria, at the time of the deaths of the martyrs of the 1990s. A new view of Saint Peter at the time of the Passion.

Luke mentions the eleven’s initial incredulity, but he also underlines Peter’s perplexity: But Peter rising up, ran to the sepulchre, and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths laid by themselves; and went away wondering in himself at that which was come to pass. Luke 24:12.

In order to understand Peter’s journey, we must go back a little way. His triple denialPiroird (548x684) during the passion forced him to measure the strength of the link which united him to Jesus. To deny Jesus was to deny himself. The regard which Jesus cast over him at that moment brought about his rebirth to himself: the journey through the night was already accomplished for Peter. He was ready to receive the light of Easter.

+ Gabriel Piroird.

The Apostles went back to Galilee. St David’s Cathedral. MMB.

 

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18 April, Maundy Thursday: Putting on an apron.

footwash

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.

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14 March. Before the Cross I: ‘Living and Dying’ by Blessed Pierre Claverie.

beatification

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.

door st Maurice

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

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August 28: Cultural Centre bears witness to the “universality” of the Church

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.

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30 April, Mary Queen of Africa.

Mary Queen of Africa at Bobo diolasso from MAfr W Africa

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.

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

Algeria_2001_St._Augustine_of_Hippo_a

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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