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Bishop Claude Rault was for many years the bishop of Laghouat in Algeria, the largest diocese in Africa. He knew most of the 19 martyrs of Algeria well. Now retired and living in France, on the occasion of their feast day, the 8th May, he gave this sermon to his fellow missionaries in Paris. 

 

It so happens that, through the mystery of history, I have come to know almost all the members of the Church of Algeria whose memory we celebrate today. Some I have known more, others less.

 

On several occasions I was able to work with Bishop Pierre in the Episcopal Conference, and he came several times to the Diocese of the Sahara when I was Vicar General. He was a passionate and exciting man. His regular letters during the “black decade” soon made him a potential target for armed Islamists and security forces. He knew the risks he was taking.

I was also quite close to Christian Chessel, Jean Chevillard, Alain Dieulangard and a little less Charlie Deckers.

Well-known also in Ribât, the Link of Peace, Brother Henri Vergès (one of the first victims), less Sister Paule Hélène who worked with him.

Sr Odette came regularly to the same spiritual sharing group. I would sometimes go to celebrate the Eucharist at their little fraternity in a working class setting.

Since the beginning of the 1970s, I had been attending the monastery of Tibhirine and had developed a rather strong bond with Bro Christian, the future Prior. Brother Luc, a colourful doctor, had treated me on several occasions.

Srs. Angèle-Marie and Bibiane were almost unknown to me.

Once or twice I had met Sr. Esther who was treating a friend of mine in a hospital in Algiers where she worked. And a little did I know her sister from the Caridad community.

 

I am not going to retrace their journey, but I will rather tell you how I was able to witness their journey towards beatification.

From the beginning, when Archbishop Henri Teissier had the investigations for a possible beatification made, I was among several “resistants” to this procedure. I was then provincial of the Maghreb. At the time when our companions from Tizi were murdered at the end of December 94, some other confreres White Fathers, especially in Central Africa, had paid with their lives for their attachment to Christ and to the country in which they had chosen to stay. In fact they had suffered the same fate. So why could our Brothers in Tizi Ouzou have been distinguished from them?

 

Besides… I had known them well enough to realise that they were not heroes! Their community life was not a great river of peace. And then, in itself, the personality of each one was not really extraordinary in terms of character and behaviour. Pierre Claverie, brilliant as he was, had his temper tantrums, Brother Christian de Chergé his contractions, our confreres in Tizi Ouzou their personal and community problems… like you and me! And sometimes the monks even more… ! There, I have played the devil’s advocate!

 

As the investigation progressed, we could see that, deep down, it was not their “exemplarity” that was at stake but the meaning of a Church committed in the midst of a People.

This was reflected in the gift of their lives in connection with Muslim men and women who had given the gift of theirs out of fidelity to God and fidelity to their people. The members of the Church of Algeria had given theirs in the line of the same fidelity.

 

Once the survey was completed, the risk was that each Congregation would present its “candidates” for Beatification in separate ranks. The White Fathers were reluctant to do so. And little by little the vision of a united Church emerged, recognising itself in these given lives and desiring to see them “beatified” not within this or that religious family but as part of the Church, the Body of Christ, which had decided to remain within this suffering people, out of solidarity with them.

“It is not because my wife has lost her mind that I am going to leave her! “replied a Little Brother of Jesus to a journalist.

 

And little by little the “cause” was advancing. The signing of the Beatification by the Pope was imminent. Where could it take place? We could not see how it could be anywhere else but Algeria! So, we bishops met in the office of the Minister of Religious Affairs.

We wanted to involve the many victims of this civil war, starting with the 113 Imams who gave their lives in the name of their faith in God who refuses violence. And it was possible to do so, they were recognized as the spiritual heritage of the humanity of this people.

 

These reflections have taught me a lot about holiness.

Those we celebrate are blessed neither because of their heroism nor because of their perfection. Heroism is of the human order, and perfection belongs to God alone.

Holiness is of another order; it is a gift of the Holy God. It is a gift that God gives to all of us, and it is up to us whether we accept it or not. It takes place within our hearts.

Those who are declared holy or blessed are declared as a foretaste of what we can be… with God’s grace.

To be officially declared “blessed” or “holy” by the Church is an appreciation that comes from her. We know that on this point she can be mistaken…

These men and women have finished their race. They were like us human beings. In the name of Love they risked to go to the end of this Love.

It is within our reach, as it is within the reach of anyone.

 

The Love of the Father accompanied them to the end of their journey, He was faithful to them. Dressed in white robes, they mysteriously let themselves be attracted by this Love of God that has no limits.

They gave their lives for those they loved as did many other anonymous people, known only to God.

Basically, the essential thing is to let oneself be attracted by this Love. And this is within the reach of all of us. To be inscribed on the list of the Blessed belongs to men. To be inscribed in the Book of Life belongs only to God. But we must wish it to each other.

+Claude Rault. M.Afr.

 

The Martyrs of Algeria

Posted on 8th May, 2020

The Martyrs of Algeria 1994 - 1996

 

Today is the feast day of 19 men and women religious killed in Algeria between 1994 and 1996, of whom 4 are Missionaries of Africa (white Fathers).  

 

We could say that there is nothing really unusual about their death at that time of civil war in Algeria when the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) and other armed islamist groups were at war with anyone who was not one of them. Atrocities were being committed by all sides; both the government and its enemies. Many innocent people, Muslims as well as Christian missionaries, died, victims of this conflict.

 

What makes these men and women stand out is that they were all foreign missionaries who refused to leave their adopted land of mission and stayed on out of love for the people with whom they lived. They lived and shared their dangers and their difficulties, rather than return to the comfort and the safety in their own homelands in Europe.

 

Of the 4 Missionaries of Africa who died, one had only finished his studies to be a missionary priest and was ordained in 1992, 2 years before his death, aged 36. Fr. Ferdinand, of the community of missionaries here in Liverpool, spent a year with him during his studies preparing for the priesthood. Cardinal Michael, also of this community, ordained him as priest.

 

For more than 150 years, the Missionaries of Africa have remained faithful to their mission in Algeria. This is a country where almost 100% of the people are Muslim. It is forbidden for them to become Christian. However, the missionaries remain there, to continue to witness to Christ’s love for this people. They respect the people’s Muslim faith. They recognise its beauty and its goodness, in its desire to serve God through prayer, through acts of charity and in faithfulness to the laws of the Qur’an. They wish to increase a better understanding and friendship between the people of the two faiths and in Christ’s name they abide in their midst.

 

This is why, the 4 Missionaries of Africa, Christian Chessel, Jean Chevillard, Alain Dieulangard from France and Charles Decker from Belgium were beatified and declared blessed by Pope Francis in December 2019. There were 15 others in the group.

 

For more information on them, please look up: http://newsaints.faithweb.com/martyrs/Algeria.htm ; and in French: https://19martyrs.jimdofree.com/mgr-claverie-et-ses-18-compagnons/qui-sont-ils/christian-chessel/     

 

Terry

Our Lady of Africa

Posted on 30th April, 2020

Today, 30th April, is a special day for us Missionaries of Africa. It  is the feast day of Our Lady of Africa. 

This day is not known by many in the Universal Church but in Africa it is an important day. Many parishes have taken Our Lady of Africa as their patron, as have many religious congregations and orders of nuns or priests or bothers. 

Our founder, Cardinal Lavigerie, had a special devotion to Mary, and so do we. 

Here is a prayer, composed by the Justice and Peace Commission of our society last year. You may wish to use it in your prayer today. 

 

Feast of Our Lady of Africa: universal prayer

 

Lord, with Marie we pray:

- Be with the victims of all forms of slavery today: human trafficking for sex slavery, forced labour, child soldiers in war zones, the unjust commerce and the exploitation of natural resources in poor countries. We ask you to be help and strength to all those victims.

 

Lord, with Marie we pray:

- Protect all those committed in the fight against human trafficking. That they may be joined by thousands of others who desire to commit themselves as well in that fight. Grant us and all our brothers and sisters, determination in the fight for dignity, justice and liberation of the oppressed.

 

Lord, with Marie we pray:

- Gather believers of different religions so that they can build bridges between ethnic groups, nations and generations, bridges on which it is possible to walk hand in hand, listen to each other and work together for our Common Home.

 

Lord, with Marie we pray: - Lord, bring us together from all nations that we may live and proclaim the Good News of liberation that Jesus proclaimed. That through the power of the Holy Spirit we may build a world where peace, justice, solidarity and fraternity reign.

 

Lord, with Marie we pray: - 150 yeas ago, our brothers and sisters, seized by the love of Christ, responded generously to the Lord’s call for the evangelisation of Africa and the African world. Give us Lord today, the ability to discern the needs of our world and respond generously to them, bringing – like our elders – light, joy and hope to those who need it so much.

Exciting Virtual Developments

Posted on 7th April, 2020

Today, 24th April 2020, is the day we open the new web site for

the Parish of St. Vincent de Paul. 

The idea of a parish web site is not new. It has been brewing for more than a year. However, none of us in the community was familiar with the construction process and time has been at a premium. It is thanks to the shutdown of most activities by the corona virus that we have been able to get to this stage in the production of the site. At least, then, one good thing has come out of the shutdown!

 

Our thanks go especially to Helen Jones, the Pastoral Assistant of Liverpool South Pastoral area, who has, with great patience and forbearance, given many hours on WhatsApp to tutor me and accompany me in the setting up of the site. It is entirely due to her generosity and patience that this site is opening today.

 

It is fitting in some ways that we open today, the beginning of Ramadan. I would like to think it is a blessing for our desire to build closer relationships with the adherents of Islam that we open on the day that they begin their Holy Month. At our prayer this morning we prayed for them, that this month be truly blessed by God and that it be a month, not so much marked by the social isolation that is imposed on us for the good of all, but by a growth in their knowledge of and obedience to God and their conversion of heart.

 

 

This conversion of heart is not just for Muslims, but for us all. Our desire is that this website will play a role in bringing us all closer together, as God’s Human Family and so be instrument for building God’s Kingdom here in the heart of Liverpool. 

Terry