The seven monks of Tibhirine to be beatified

The Vatican issued the decree of martyrdom for the slain monks, Oran Bishop Mgr Pierre Claverie, and other 11 men and women religious killed between 1994 and 1996 during the Algerian civil war. Doubts about responsibility in the murders persist.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine (Algeria), killed in 1996, will soon be beatified.

The Vatican Press Office announced today that Pope Francis has authorised the promulgation of the decree concerning their martyrdom.

The martyrdom of Mgr Pierre Claverie, Dominican bishop of Oran, and other 11 men and women religious "killed in hatred of the faith in Algeria from 1994 to 1996" was also recognised.

The story of the monks of Tibhirine goes back to the civil war that raged Algeria in the 1990s, pitting the Algerian government against several Islamic groups that claimed an electoral victory that was denied in a military coup.

The war, which lasted for almost a decade, killed hundreds of thousands of people, often slaughtered in a bloody and cruel way.

The seven monks belonged to the community of Tibhirine, founded in 1938 near the town of Medea, 90 km south of Algiers.

They maintained good relations with the local population, almost all Muslims, despite tensions with some more fundamentalist elements.

On the night of 26-27 March 1996, they were kidnapped by a group of terrorists. On 21 May, the GIA (Groupe armé islamique, Armed Islamic Group) announced their death. On 30 May their heads were discovered. Their bodies were neve found.

Various studies and research into their murder have raised doubts about the official Algerian version of events, which blamed their death on Islamist extremists. The story of the seven martyred monks was brought to the silver screen in Of Gods and Men.

Mgr Pierre Claverie (1938-1996) was born in Algeria to French (Pied-Noir) parents. He studied in metropolitan France, and returned to the North African country as a Dominican. Here he engaged in ecumenical outreach towards Muslim culture and religion.

He was ordained bishop of Oran on 9 October 1981 at Algiers cathedral in the presence of many Muslim friends.

On 1 August 1996 he was killed by a bomb, along with his Muslim driver and friend, Mohamed Bouchikhi, as they entered the Bishopric building. At his funeral, his Muslim friends described him "the bishop of the Muslims".