Nineteen Catholic monks, missionary-priests and sisters, murdered in the 1990s during the Black Decade in Algeria, will be elevated to the rank of blessed on December 8 at the Basilica of Santa Cruz in Oran. The memory of 114 imams victims of terrorism will also be honored.
John Paul Vesco, Bishop of Oran, John Mac William, Bishop of Laghouat-Ghardai, Jean-Marie Jehl, Administrator of Constantine and Hippo, and Paul Desfarges, Archbishop of Algiers, will be present.
In addition to Claverie, those being beatified are: Brother Henri Vergès, Sr. Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond, Sr. Esther Paniagua Alonso, Sr. Caridad Álvarez Martín, Fr. Jean Chevillard, Fr. Alain Dieulangard, Fr. Charles Deckers, Fr. Christian Chessel, Sr. Angèle-Marie Littlejohn, Sr. Bibiane Leclercq, Sr. Odette Prévost, Brother Luc Dochier, Brother Christian de Chergé, Brother Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Brother Bruno Lemarchand, Brother Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville.
The best known of Claverie’s companions are the seven monks of Tibhirine, who were kidnapped from their Trappist priory in March 1996. They were kept as a bartering chip to procure the release of several imprisoned members of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, and were killed in May. Their story was dramatized in the 2010 French film Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
After the death of the monks of Tibhirine, Bishop Claverie knew his life was in serious danger. A bomb exploded at the entrance of his chancery August 1, 1996, killing him and an aide, Mohamed Bouchikhi.
“The beatification of our brothers and sisters is a grace for our Church,” Archbishop Desfarges of Algiers wrote in a November pastoral letter.
He urged the local Church “to love as they did in the freedom that the Holy Spirit gives” because the martyrs “go before us on the path of witness that our Church is called to give in this land of Algeria, which from the first century has been watered with the blood of the martyrs.”
Archbishop Desfarges said that the 19 martyrs “still continue their mission” and noted that “their lives were given to God and to the people to whom love had united them.” He encouraged the faithful to pray to them “asking for the grace of fidelity for our Church in its mission.”
The archbishop said that the witness of the future blesseds “takes us down the path of ordinary holiness.”
“Life is given to us in order to live it giving ourselves in the everyday . . . holiness is not a perfection in virtue or morals” but “is a matter of giving your own life, loving and serving in the ordinary things of everyday life,” he stressed.
Archbishop Desfarges recalled that the Gospel of following Christ “invites us, encouraged by our blesseds, to live welcoming others to the point of completely divesting ourselves. To welcome the other person is to be totally present to his presence.”
He recalled that “there is no greater love than to lay down your own life for your own friends,” and emphasized the invitation to “endure humiliations” because “to welcome Jesus means to be welcoming to the enemy,” for “the cross is lifted up when at the moment you are loving the most, you are rejected.”
Finally, the archbishop of Algiers invited the faithful to live this “time of witnessing” through inter-religious dialogue.
“The witness of the Catholic Church is not a witness against another’s religion, but a witness that the love of Christ poured out in our hearts calls us to live a love for everyone, without distinction, even enemies,” he concluded.
Facing a GOODBYE….
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 and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this 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.
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 to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
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.
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 indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay
for what will perhaps be called, the “grace of martyrdom”
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,
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 the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience
by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel
which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,
precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm
those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
“Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!”
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father
to contemplate with him His children of Islam
just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,
the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit
whose secret joy will always be to establish communion
and restore the likeness, playing with 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 is said for everything in my life from now on,
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,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
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.
Algiers, 1st December 1993
Tibhirine, 1st January 1994