The monks of Tibhirine, Mgr Pierre Claverie, other members of the clergy and the laity will be beatified on 8 December in Oran (Algeria). This can help the Lebanese rediscover the Christian mission and their own land, which is also loved by Muslims. It can also help build an Islamic-Christian nation and a national culture.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – A few weeks before the beatification of 19 martyrs of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, the Vatican News Agency published a pastoral letter from the Archbishop of Algiers, Mgr Paul Desfarges, in which he explains the meaning of this event.
Its originality lies in that it is both an ecclesial sign and a sign addressed to the Algerian people. As Lebanese, we should be more sensitive to such a letter more than others, as we heal the wounds of our own civil discord, which has often taken on an interreligious hue.
The 19 martyrs, says the message of the Archbishop of Algiers, gave their lives "for God and the (Algerian) people to whom they were bound by love. [. . .] They sealed in our people a brotherhood through shed blood. Their lives were taken along with those of thousands of their Algerian brothers and sisters who, too, lost their lives when they chose to remain loyal to their faith in God, to their conscience and out of love for their country."
The Archbishop of Algiers notes that during this terrible decade, "114 imams died because they refused to justify violence." He also urges us to remember the 12 Croatian workers who were slaughtered because they were Christian in a massacre that took place in December 1993, as well as three other Christian workers who were not far from where the martyrs worked, but who were rescued by one of their Muslim colleagues who made the terrorists believe they were Muslims.
In doing so, Bishop Desfarges quotes a Quranic verse that the seven Trappist monks from the Tibhirine monastery had themselves quoted in a forum in 1994: “[W]hoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind” (Quran, 5:32). The monks were abducted in March 1996 and held captive by Islamists. They were killed under unclear circumstances a few weeks later.
These monks, who were not Algerian citizens, had taken the risk of staying in their monastery, knowing that they were exposing themselves to the possibility of death, in order to express their spiritual solidarity with the Algerian people.
The late bishop of Oran, Pierre Claverie, will also be among the religious who will be beatified. He died along with a young Algerian Muslim on 1 August 1996. A play, "Pierre and Mohamed", tells the story of the two martyrs and the deep meaning of their death. It was played recently at Beirut’s Momot Theatre, and in some schools. Both had foreseen their death, and both accepted it in the spirit of friendship and spiritual solidarity that united them.
Hence, Muslims will be part of the beatification process (8 December), which will start in fact with a welcome ceremony at Oran’s Grand Mosque.
There too, there is certainly a lesson for us Lebanese, whose war is infused with sacrifices like those the Catholic Church honours in Algeria. The younger generations may not be aware of the exemplary story of Ghassibé Keyrouz, who was killed on 25 December 1975, on his way home to Niha, a village in the Bekaa Valley, to spend the Christmas holidays with his family.
"A few days after he went missing and the first reports about his death started surfacing, his friends found in his room, at Notre-Dame College in Jamhour, a letter he had written before leaving. It said in particular:
"When I started writing this letter, I felt like there was someone else speaking for me. Today, each of us, whether Lebanese or other residents, is in danger. I am one of them. I see myself stopped and gunned down on the road that leads home to Nabha (Bekaa), my village. In case this intuition comes to pass, I leave these few words for my family, for the people of my village and for my country. I say from the bottom of my heart, to my mother and my sisters: do not be sad or at least, do not cry too much, do not cry for me (...). I ask one thing: forgive with all your heart those who kill me.
The letter goes on to say, "Make sure with me that my blood, albeit that of a sinner, can serve as reparation for crimes committed in Lebanon and a sacrifice whose blood mixes with that of all other victims who have fallen on all sides and of all faiths, so that peace, love and forgiveness – which are lacking in our day in our country and in the world – may again flourish in our hearts. [. . .] Pray, pray, pray and love your enemies.”*
What the Church of Algeria has done is exemplary. Whilst acknowledging the differences between Christians from Muslims, she brings them together in the same love of country and the same sacrifice destined to consolidate its renaissance and identity.
Similarly, the Maronite Church should follow this example, and elevate to the glory of the altars Lebanese like Ghassibé Keyrouz who, early on, gave their lives for Lebanon, in a full Christian conscience of what is the love of God and fellow man, and in an irrevocable will for forgiveness.
Other Churches and religious orders, such as the Society of Jesus, could follow this example. Given the exemplary prudence shown by the Church of Algeria, far from any revanchist spirit, notion of victimisation or communal glory, they could pick those of their members who indistinctly offered their lives to Lebanon and God, at least as an example, should beatification prove impossible (if the procedure is uncertain, too costly or too long). The Dutch Jesuit priest, Nicolas Kluiters, murdered in the Bekaa in 1985, whose biography Carole Dagher wrote, is one leading example. Writers and schools could do something as well. A Nation, a national culture, is built.
As for the recently adopted law on the victims of disappearances and abductions, it is of a different order. With the search for the truth, the need for justice and the duty of remembering are called upon. Let us say that this is an entirely different project.
This is also the case of the National Islamic-Christian feast of the Annunciation, which has its limits, because it separates as much as it unites. It unites Muslims and Christians on the Annunciation by the angel of the birth of Jesus, and divides us on the identity of this announced child – man for some, God for others – which makes all the difference.
The bridge over the chasm the Jesuit Provincial Fr Dany Younes talked about with respect to Fr Paolo Dall'Oglio SJ, is bound to remain unfinished, since there can be no faith without doctrine, other than in the mystical union that adventurers of dialogue like Paolo Dall'Oglio, "greeted from afar", like a promised land.
Fortunately, things are much simpler in the case of the martyrs of Algeria, and in the specific case of Ghassibé Keyrouz. In the latter, the work of reconciliation is practically done. All that is left to do is intelligently pick the fruit. When the next commemoration is held in Lebanon on 25 March, let us offer this play as an example and look for, in the history of the war or elsewhere, all those like it.
* For Ghassibé Keyrouz's will, do a name search on the Internet.