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19 Algerian martyrs to be beatified in December

Mélinée Le Priol - L Croix International - Sun, Sep 30th 2018

The Tibhirine monks as well as Bishop Pierre Claverie and eleven other Catholic religious were killed during Algeria's 'dark decade'

The tombs of the seven Trappist monks martyred in the garden of their monastery, which is in use again
since 2016. (Photo by Romain Laurendeau/Hans Lucas/AFP) 

Rome, Assisi and Algiers were all possibilities for hosting the Dec. 8 beatification of Bishop Pierre Claverie and “his 18 companions,” as the official documents of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints describes them.

Ultimately, it was decided to hold the event in Oran, the city of Bishop Claverie at the time of his assassination on Aug. 1, 1996.

His companions include the seven Trappist monks from Tibhirine, one Marist brother, four White Fathers, and six religious from various congregations that have a presence in Algeria.

All were killed between 1993 and 1996 in the midst of an Islamic guerrilla war against the Algiers government and the Algerian people during a period now referred to by historians as the “dark decade.”

On Jan. 27, Pope Francis signed the decree beatifying the 19 religious, who were recognized as “martyrs” by the Catholic Church.

Thus, the ceremony is already due. On Friday, the Bishops' Conference of Algeria announced that it will take place at the Santa Cruz Basilica at the end of this year.

The priority was to ensure it takes place prior to the opening of the presidential election campaign, a highly politicized period in the nation’s life.

“Dec. 15 was proposed at first but Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who will preside over the ceremony, was unavailable,” explains Bishop Jean-Paul Vesco of Oran, who is organizing the event.

“As a result, the previous Saturday, Dec. 8 was chosen,” he said. “And it is actually the most appropriate date possible!”

Since it is also the Marian feast of the Immaculate Conception, it will make it possible to gather both Christians and Muslims around the personality of Mary.

Indeed, Bishop Vesco is adamant that Algerian Muslims should take part in the event.

“It will not be a purely Christian pilgrimage,” he said. “It will offer a significant role to Algeria and its religion [Islam] in one way or another.”

Organizers are also considering holding an interreligious prayer vigil as well as a ceremony at the Great Mosque of Oran.

The liturgy for the beatification ceremony at Santa Cruz will also take place in several languages.

The ceremony will thus seek to honor the radical commitment of the 19 religious who chose to remain in Algeria with their local neighbors right to the end, despite Islamist threats and warnings from the authorities.

The monks of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine defined their lives simply as “prayers among other prayers.”

As such, they sought to share in the difficult lives of the Algerian people, pardoning their attackers in advance.

Although he is pleased that the beatifications will be held soon, which he views as a sign of the burning relevance of the testimony of the religious, Bishop Vesco also regards it as “a high risk beatification.”

More than 200,000 people died during the dark decade, so why beatify these nineteen?

“Some people may have the impression that the Church 'has climbed over the back' of the Algerians,” he said. “Others may look upon the ceremony as yet another proof that Islam is violent.”

Anticipating such reactions, Bishop Vesco expressed the hope that the event will succeed in promoting a message of brotherhood.

According to Father Guy Sawadogo, a White Father from Burkina Faso now working in Algeria, this message has already made itself heard, at least in part.

For the last four years, Father Sawadogo has led the Christian community at Tizi Ouzou, where the four White Fathers who are to be beatified in December, were killed in 1994.

“Every year on the anniversary of their deaths, the Algerians who knew them continue to come to demonstrate their support and gratitude,” he said. “They say that these priests, as fathers, helped them to grow.”

Father Sawadogo initially intended to join the 1,000 invitees to the Dec. 8 celebration.

However, conscious that “many would like to be witnesses at this historic event,” he now plans to offer his place to another person who is disappointed at not being invited.

“For years, I prayed in the chapel of these fathers, wore their albs, and lived where they lived,” he said. “I have already had my share of good luck.”

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