Dilatato Corde 8:1
January – June, 2018
The Trappist martyrs of Tibherine. Left to right, top to bottom: Dom Christian de Chergé, Brother Luc (born Paul Dochier), Father Christophe (Lebreton), Brother Michel (Fleury), Father Bruno (born Christian Lemarchand), Father Célestin (Ringeard), and Brother Paul (Favre-Miville).
The Trappist martyrs of Tibherine. Left to right, top to bottom: Dom Christian de Chergé, Brother Luc (born Paul Dochier), Father Christophe (Lebreton), Brother Michel (Fleury), Father Bruno (born Christian Lemarchand), Father Célestin (Ringeard), and Brother Paul (Favre-Miville).

 Anna Pozzi
The Blessed of Algeria

The beatification decree of the 19 Christian martyrs of Algeria who lost their lives in the 1990s will likely be announced in January 2018. The official title of the decree is “Bishop Pierre Claverie and his companions,” a reference to the 19 men and women religious who were killed.
Anna Pozzi of Mondo e Missione, the journal of the PIME missionaries, interviewed the postulator of their cause, the Trappist monk Father Thomas Georgeon, who began by saying,
“Paying homage to the 19 Christian martyrs means paying tribute to the memory of all those who gave their lives in Algeria in the 1990s. It is an opportunity to remember all those who gave their lives in those dark years, but also to rediscover the true meaning of the term ’martyr,’ which is witness.”
Father Georgeon, the cause of beatification of the 19 Christian martyrs of Algeria, launched in 2006, is now being concluded. It was a rather quick process. That is somewhat unusual, especially for collective causes. Why did it happen so fast?
“From the beginning, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was very favorably disposed to this cause. The diocesan phase lasted five years. The work then proceeded very rapidly, especially the Roman phase of the cause. Thanks to the commitment of the Cardinal Prefect and probably also to the desire of the Holy Father, the process moved forward very quickly. It seems to me that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and, more generally, the Holy See felt that at the present times this cause has significant ecclesial importance—and that is something that makes me very happy. This beatification has aroused great expectations, especially in the Church, but also outside it, and in the media as well.”
Who were these 19 martyrs? They are very different people—from bishop Claverie to the monks of Tibhirine to numerous men and women religious of various congregations. What did they have in common?
“Many things. Each of them was an authentic witness of Christ's love, of dialogue, of openness to others, of friendship and fidelity to the Algerian people. They had an immense faith in Christ and his Gospel. They did not give their lives for an idea, for a cause, but for Him. They had a deep love for Algeria, the land where the Lord had sent them. Inspired by the Gospel, they had great affection for the Algerian people, especially the poor and the young. They respected the faith of the other and desired to understand Islam. They realized that they belonged to a Church that saw its presence completely transformed after the country achieved independence. It had become a “guest” Church—small, humble, caring, and loving. Each of the 19 martyrs, like so many other members of the Church who are still alive, gave profound witness to this way of being Church. Their life and their death are like an icon of the identity of the Church of Algeria. To the very end, they understood that their vocation was to be a sacrament of Christ's love for all his people.”
What message do they have for us today?
“The message of these 19 men and women religious is clear: we need to deepen the meaning of this kind of ecclesial presence and demonstrate that the fraternal and respectful coexistence of religions is a real possibility. In the Muslim world, it proclaims and gives witness to the Gospel of peace, in spite of the fact that those to whom this proclamation is directed may remain deaf and blind to this witness. It seems to me that in today's world they teach us what perseverance and faithfulness mean. In the area of interreligious dialogue, they show us the path of humility. Those who want to enter into dialogue must have both a “taste” for the other, and a great respect for their faith. As Christian de Chergé, the prior of the Tibhirine monastery, wrote, “The faith of the other is a gift from God, a mysterious gift without doubt. Therefore, it requires respect.”
A message of hope and the possibility of living together . . .
“These 19 people also invite us to conversion, not in the sense of changing one’s religion, but of changing one’s heart. As Brother Henri Vergès wrote, ‘Take the part of love, forgiveness, and communion as opposed to hatred, revenge, and violence, and do so openly.’ His writings give expression to this shared hope, this Gospel of life that they wanted to follow all the way to the supreme gift.”
It has been pointed out that these Christian men and women shared a tragic destiny that was common to all the Algerian people in a moment of great suffering. They were martyrs among martyrs . . .
“Yes, this martyrdom occurred in the midst of an ocean of violence that engulfed Algeria in the 1990s. It was a martyrdom “with” rather than “against.” It is impossible to think only of “our” martyrs, ignoring the tens of thousands of Algerian victims of the black decade who also gave their lives for their country and their faith. Therefore, paying homage to the 19 Christian martyrs also means paying tribute to the memory of all those who gave their lives in Algeria in those dark years.”
What is the Church of Algeria hoping for?
“The expectations are varied. There are many who await this recognition. Others are not so sure. They do not like the term “martyr” because they fear that remembering this painful past is a dangerous undertaking. Sensibilities differ, and that is understandable, given the situation of this small and fragile Church, so poor, but so prophetic. We have to look to the future, enriched by a past that can nurture the presence of the Church in Algeria today and tomorrow, so that it can continue its humble service. Brother Henri Vergès said, “’God has a mysterious design for the people of Islam.” He wanted it to be at the service of reciprocal openness and mutual enrichment in a dialogue that promotes life.’”
In a Muslim setting such as that of Algeria, where the wounds of the dark years of terrorism have not yet completely healed, do you think this beatification will be accepted? What needs to be done so that it could be accepted?
“The mission of the Church is forgiveness and mercy, and she wishes to offer this to the whole of Algeria while respecting the suffering and the numerous scars that still remain. The Holy Father was especially insistent on this point when he met with Bishops Paul Desfarges of Algiers, Jean Paul Vesco or Oran, and members of the commission. He underlined the significance of this cause by speaking of Mohammed, the young friend of Bishop Claverie who was murdered with him. Together, their blood was poured out in love for that land and that people. Since the word “martyr” is often misunderstood, it must be explained that the correct meaning of the term is “witness.” There were tens of thousands of witnesses in Algeria, people who fought, each in its own way, for a just and peaceful society, rejecting all fundamentalism.”
Pope Francis seems to be very attentive to this cause. Is it possible that he will go to Algeria for the beatification ceremony? Will it take place in Oran?
“As I said before, yes, Pope Francis is very attentive to this cause because he understands what is at stake and believes that the testimony of our 19 brothers and sisters is a marvelous invitation to dialogue with Islam, a dialogue of ”living together“ in respect of otherness and the faith of the other. The Algerian bishops would like the beatification to be celebrated in Oran, the diocese of which Bishop Claverie was the shepherd. Will the Pope go to Algeria? Everything is possible, but nothing is decided. As Head of State, the Pope only travels to a country if he is invited by the local authorities. I also imagine that it would have to be determined if such a trip is opportune. It would certainly offer great encouragement to the Church in Algeria, and I dare to believe and hope that it will happen. It would also be a strong sign of support for the Algerian people, who, like many others, are sensitive to the personality and the words of Pope Francis.“
Translated from “Beati d’Algeria” by Anna Pozzi. In Mondo e Missione (1 gennaio 2018) by William Skudlarek.
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