Tag Archives: Christian de Chergé

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

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Twentieth century martyrs

prepare yourself for trials.
Sirach 2:1

The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death
the Son of Man will rise.
Mark 9: 31

The memory of the martyrs reminds us that witnessing to the Truth of God has consequences. The way of following Christ passes through the Cross.

The twentieth century is full of martyrs who died for their faith. The circumstances of their deaths and the reasons why they were killed are many. And some may have died more for reasons of politics than of faith.

Today’s martyrs illustrate the range of martyrs.

Today the Catholic church celebrates Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant who refused to serve in Hitler’s army. He was beheaded by the Nazis on August 9, 1943. Today is the anniversary of his baptism in 1907. His witness of refusal to support Nazism has inspired me and many to oppose war and totalitarian regimes. An article by the Catholic Peace Fellowship can be found here. I wrote about him here and here.

Today is also the feast of St. Cristobal Magallenes and other Mexican Catholics killed in the wake of the Cristero rebellion. Father Cristobal preached against the rebellion but he was arrested and killed, forgiving his enemies.

Today is also the anniversary of the deaths of Trappist Father Christian de Chergé and seven other Trappists in Algeria. Offering a contemplative witness in Algeria which included dialogue with Islam, they were kidnapped and killed by rebels. In a letter written a few years before their death, Père Christian wrote a letter that ended with these moving words to his murderer:

May we be granted to meet each other again, happy thieves, in paradise, should it please God, the Father of both of us. Amen! In sh’Allah!

I wrote about them here.  A short reflection on the film Of Gods and Men is found here.

Today is also the anniversary of the killing in Peru of Australian Sister Irene McCormick by the Sendero Luminoso, a rebel group.

The list can go on of the anniversary of martyrs – including

  • Fr. Pedro Aguilar Santos, killed in El Quiché, Guatemala, in 1981.
  • Norma Coronoa Sapiens, president and founding member of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, killed — death squad style — in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, in 1991.
  • Fr. Carlos Domiak, killed in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, 1975.

It must be noted that most Latin American martyrs of the late twentieth century were not killed by rebels but by government forces or right wing death squads who opposed the church’s defense of the poor. Many of these governments were supported by the US government.

These women and men knew that their Lord did not turn back in the face of persecution. The knew that serving Him and the poor, being witnesses to Love, can lead to one’s death.

The martyrs challenge us but they also offer us a paradoxical confirmation of the closing lines of today’s first reading (Sirach 2: 11)

Compassionate and merciful is the Lord;
he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble
and he is a protector to all who seek him in truth.

The martyrs die – but they believe that God is with them. God’s protection doesn’t necessarily mean protection from death and suffering. It means a deep peace in the face of the Cross.