Tag Archives: Algeria

A martyr’s tribute to another martyr

Before the current wave of martyrs in the Middle East, most recently those killed in Egypt on Palm Sunday, there were a good number of martyrs in Algeria in the 1990s.

The most famous of these are the Trappists of Tibhirine who were kidnapped on March 27, 1996, and then killed. John Kiser wrote The Monks of Tibhirine; Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. The moving film Of Gods and Men is one of the most moving films I have ever see.

Their prior, Fr. Christian de Chergé, OCSO, wrote an incredible testament, available here in English and French.

But there were many others.

On May 8, 1994, two years before his martyrdom, Fr. Henri-Barthelemy Verges, Marist brother, and Sister Paule-Hélène Saint Raymund, Little Sister of the Assumption, were killed in Algiers, Algeria.

On July 5, 1994, Père Christian wrote this about Père Henri-Barthelemy:

“I was personally very close to Henri. His death seemed to be so natural, just part of a long life entirely given to the small, ordinary duties. He seemed to me to belong to the category that I call ‘martyrs of hope,’ those who are never spoken of because all their blood is poured out in patient endurance of day-to day life. I understand ‘monastic martyrdom’ in the same sense. It is this instinct that leads us not to change anything here at present, except for an ongoing effort at conversion. But there again, no change!”

Martyrdom is not always something extraordinary. It is often the closure on a life given over in love to the tasks of daily life.

This reminded me of what Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero wrote in his retreat notebook, in March 1980, shortly before his martyrdom,

“My disposition should be to give my life for God, however it should end. The grace of God will enable us to live through the unknown circumstances. He aided the martyrs and, if it should be necessary that I die as they did, I will feel him very close to me at the moment of breathing my last breath. But more important than the moment of death is to give him all my life and live for him and for my own mission.”

What is important is the daily martyrdom, the giving over oneself to God and others. This is the witness – the martirio – of those who seek to follow the Cross of Christ to the Resurrection – a life of continual conversion

Like stars in the darkness

In the midst of the terror in Paris and Beirut in the past week, while thousands flee the violence in Syria, while many remember the terror and the killings in Kenya and Nigeria, while war and bombing continues to kill many in the Middle East and elsewhere, while hospitals are bombed, while violence and hunger leaves many victims throughout the world, many feel as if the end of the world is at hand. Many feel, as we read in today’s first reading from the prophet Daniel 12: 1-3, that we live in a time “unsurpassed in distress.”

Many have felt this throughout history. The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem felt like the end of the world to the Jews. The fall of Rome to the “barbarians” felt like the end of civilization. The black plague led many to think that the end of the world was at hand.

But Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, Mark 13:32, that no one, but the Father, knows the day and the hour.

Yet, I ask, what can we do in the midst of the darkness?

The last line of the reading from Daniel can give us hope and also challenge us:

Those who lead the many to justice
will shine like the stars forever.

There are many voices that would lead us to the supposed justice of vengeance and extermination of our “enemies.”

But there are voices that urge us to the justice, the righteousness, of God, a justice that seeks to offer a different vision of the world, that refuses to demonize even those who commit terror, that challenges us to be creative, loving, and merciful.

The violence of terror is meant to leave us paralyzed by fear. But the justice of God is meant to guide us to new ways of living and loving.

I don’t have answers, but I think that we do have a guide – Jesus. We also have guides among us who offer us a different vision of justice.

Last night I noted that several persons have recalled the Last Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé, one of the Trappists kidnapped and killed by extremists in Algeria in 1996. The full text can be found here, but a few phrases might help us to meditate in the midst of the darkness

I ask them to associate [my] death
with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference
or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.

I should like, when the time comes,
to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart
the one who would strike me down.

Dom Christian is one of those stars who can guide us to the true Justice, the God of mercy and all-embracing love.

May we see his light and follow him on the way to real peace.

Praying for your enemies

This year has seen a large number of killings of Christians by religious extremists. But this is not new.

In the 1990s Algeria experienced a wave of killings of Christians, among them seven Trappists of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas in Tibhirine. Their story – a witness of God’s presence in the midst of an Islamic country – is beautifully told in several books and in the movie Of Gods and Men.

In December 1993, the prior, Fr. Christian-Marie de Chergé, OCSO, wrote a letter that was to be opened only at his death.

He and six other Trappists were kidnapped and then killed on May 21, 1996.

These words of Dom Christian’s letter deserve our meditation in the midst of calls for violence and revenge:

“If it were ever to happen — and it could happen any day — that I should be the victim of the terrorism which seems to be engulfing all the foreigners now 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.

“That they accept that the unique Master of all life will be no stranger to such a brutal departure.

“That they pray for me: for how should I prove worthy of such an offering?

“That they understand that such a death should be linked to so many others, equally violent, but which remain masked by the anonymity of indifference.

“My life has no greater worth than that of another. Nor is it worth any less. . . .

“I have lived long enough to recognize that I am caught up as an accomplice in the evil which, alas, seems to prevail in the world, even which might strike me blindly.

“At such a moment, I would like to have enough lucidity left to beg God’s pardon and that of all my fellow human beings, while pardoning with all my heart anyone who might have hurt me.”

In the final words he addresses his assassin with words that speak of a heart full of God’s love for all:

“And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:

“Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a ‘GOD-BLESS’ for you, too,

because in God’s face I see yours.

“May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.

“AMEN !   INCHALLAH ! “

Words from a martyr

In the midst of the wars in the Middle East and the wanton killing of civilians, I offer these quotes from Bishop Pierre Lucien Claverie, French bishop of Oran, Algeria, a proponent of active solidarity and dialogue with Islam, who was killed on August 1, 1996.

“There is no life without love. There is no love without letting go every possession and giving oneself.”

“That is probably what is at the basis of my religious vocation. I wondered why, throughout my Christian childhood when I listened to sermons on loving one’s neighbor, I had never heard anyone say the Arabs were my neighbors.”

“It is my conviction that humanity can only exist in the plural. As soon as we claim to possess the truth or speak in the name of humanity we fall into totalitarianism and exclusion. No one possesses the truth; everyone seeks it.”

“So that love vanquishes hate, one must love to the point of giving one’s life in the daily combat from which Jesus himself did not escape unscathed.”

 

Loving our neighbor

In the 1990s Algeria was torn apart by the violence. Among the victims were Trappist monks, other men and women religious, and a bishop, Monseigneur Pierre Lucien Claverie, Bishop of Oran, who was killed on this day in 1996. He was the last Catholic leader killed in Algeria.

He was born in Algeria of French parents. He was very sympathetic to the cause of Algerian independence in the 1950s.

After studying and being ordained a Dominican priest in France, he decided to return to Algeria in 1967.

He directed a center for Arabic and Islamic studies which attracted Muslims and ot only Christians.

For Bishop Claverie, his love embraced all.

As he wrote shortly before his death:

“There is no life without love. There is no love without letting go every possession and giving oneself.
“That is probably what is at the basis of my religious vocation.
“I wondered why, throughout my Christian childhood when I listened to sermons on loving one’s neighbor, I had never heard anyone say the Arabs were my neighbors.
“It is my conviction that humanity can only exist in the plural. As soon as we claim to possess the truth or speak in the name of humanity we fall into totalitarianism and exclusion. No one possesses the truth; everyone seeks it.”

Today, we need to be reminded that all people are our neighbors and we are called to love them all – not with pious intentions, but with a love that seeks their good and the good of all peoples.

Today, love your neighbor – and, if you really want to be a follower of Christ, love your enemy.