Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Seven Monks Murdered in Algeria

In 1996 seven French monks were murdered in Algeria by Islamic terrorists. At the time I was doing a French course in London called “Language and Current Affairs” and we were shocked that such a thing could happen. Last week Christiane and I saw the excellent film “Des Hommes et Des Dieux”, which tells the story in a graphic but peaceful way.
The film ends with a reading of the Testament of Father Christian de Chergé, the prior of the monastery. We have briefly met his brother Hubert who lives about half an hour north of here. From time to time he employs some of his considerable charm and politeness to persuade our friends Lisa and Geoff to help with fund raising for the restoration of the village church.  Hubert writes about his reaction to the events at Tibherine in this article.
I wanted to read the Testament again and translate it, however, a quick Google search showed that Vincent-Paul Toccoli http://www.toccoli.org/, a priest who lives in Cannes, had already posted a translation on his blog. The translation he used was done by the Trappist monks of Mount St Bernard Abbey, Leicester, England.

Christian de Chergé
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.

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 share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to 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 this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called "the grace of martyrdom," to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind of Islamism encourages. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims—finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: "Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!" But these people must realize that my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—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 to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.

For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished 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 brothers and sisters and their families—the hundred-fold granted as was promised!

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 —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.
I realise now that I have met Vincent-Paul Toccoli ten years ago when he presided over the wedding of some friends of Christiane. It was the first wedding in the new church of St Paul des Nations at Sophia Antipolis. I remarked on his very good English accent and asked him where he had learnt English, “Oxford old boy” was his reply!
It's either a small world or God moves in mysterious ways!

1 comment:

  1. I too, just saw the movie, and am wrestling with what I would have done. It would have been nice to talk with Father Christian I think ..