Feast of Christian de Cherge and His Companions (May 21)   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of Northern Algeria

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from Rand McNally World Atlas–Imperial Edition (1968)

Tibhirine is northwest of Médéa, southeast of Cherchel, and southwest of Blida.

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CHRISTIAN DE CHERGÉ (JANUARY 18, 1937-MAY 21, 1996)

Prior of the Trappist Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas, Tibhirine, Algeria

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If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners 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. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

–From the Last Testament of Christian de Chergé, translated by the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicester, England

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The story of the monks of Tibhirine became the basis of the movie Of Gods and Men (2010).

In the early hours of March 27, 1996, twenty soldiers of the Armed Islamic Group (G.I.A.) burst into the Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas, Tibhirine, Algeria.  They abducted seven monks:

  1. Father Christian de Chergé, the Prior;
  2. Brother Luc (born Paul Bechier), a physician;
  3. Father Christophe Lebreton;
  4. Brother Michel Fleury;
  5. Father Bruno (born Christian LeMarchand);
  6. Father Célestin Ringeard; and
  7. Brother Paul Favre-Miville.

During a civil war in Algeria the G.I.A. wanted all foreigners to leave the country–or else.  The monks had remained, despite many warnings.  The Islamist group hoped to swap the monks for prisoners, but the French government refused to negotiate with terrorists.  The G.I.A. beheaded the monks on May 21.  Two monks–Father Jean-Pierre and Father Amédée, hid successfully from the terrorists on March 27.  These fortunate men told the story of the others.

The monks of Tibhirine understood the difference between Islam and Islamism.  They lived peaceably among Muslims, with whom they prayed and who came to the monastery for medical care.  The villagers certainly were not violent toward the monks.  Extremists were, unfortunately.

Christian de Chergé was a peaceful and tolerant man.  He, born in Colmar, France, on January 18, 1937, was the second of eight children born into a devout Roman Catholic family.  In 1959 our saint was a French soldier stationed in Algeria during the war for independence.  One of his friends was Mohammed, a police officer and a devout Muslim.  When a rebel attempted to ambush de Chergé, Mohammed, acting on his faith, saved our saint’s life.  The police officer became the victim of an assassination that day or the next one.  De Chergé never forgot his friend’s action and the high price he paid for it, and looked forward to meeting him again in the communion of saints.  De Chergé went on to become a priest in 1964 and a Trappist monk at Aiguebelle five years later.  He transferred to Tibhirine in 1971.  Our saint became an avid student of the Koran.  Villagers reciprocated his respect for them, Algeria, Islam, and Muslims.

Unfortunately, extremists, who did not know de Chergé and his fellow monks, acted out of a toxic stew of hatred, intolerance, and narrow nationalism.  The G.I.A., fighting a civil war against the less than warm-and-fuzzy military-controlled Algerian government, started killing foreigners who remained in the country after December 1, 1993.

The rest is history.

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this <adieu>—to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.

–From the Last Testament of Christian de Chergé, translated by the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicester, England

To repay violence with violence, hatred with hatred, intolerance with intolerance, and evil with evil is tempting and morally incorrect.  Shall we consider the scriptures?

Never pay back evil for evil.  Let your aims be such as all count honourable.  If possible, so far as it lies with you, live at peace with all.  My dear friends, do not seek revenge, but leave a place for divine retribution; for there is a text which reads, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.”  But there is another text:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; by doing this you will heap live coals on his head.”  Do not let evil conquer you, but use good to conquer evil.

–Romans 12:17-21, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Also:

Do not repay wrong with wrong, or abuse with abuse; on the contrary, respond with blessing, for a blessing is what God intends you to receive.

–1 Peter 3:9a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Besides, forgiveness is a better and more difficult path to trod.

De Chergé forgave his murderer in advance, for he wrote the first draft of his Last Testament on December 1, 1993, two and a half years before he died.

De Chergé puts me to shame.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 20, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD WATSON GILDER, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF HENRY FRANCIS LYTE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PRISCILLA LYDIA SELLON, A RESTORER OF RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF THEODORE CLAUDIUS PEASE, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of love in the hearts

of your holy Martyrs of Tibhirine, Algeria:

Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love,

that we who rejoice in their triumph may profit by their examples;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 15:15-21

Psalm 124 or 31:1-15

1 Peter 4:12-19

Mark 8:34-38

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 715

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