Fr Anton’s reflection for the Memorial for Monks of Algeria 5/8/20

Background note: 

In March 1996,  every monastery in the Cistercian Order received large photos of the seven monks who had been kidnapped in Algeria, with a request for prayers.

At Gethsemani,  we offered a Mass for the safe release of  the hostages,  followed by a Day of Prayer, during which their seven photos were across the front of Church,  with a votive candle in a white glass burning before each photo.

In May came  news of their deaths.

At Gethsemani, we offered a Mass for the Dead,  followed by a Day of Prayer, during which the seven photos were across the front of Church,  with a votive candle in a  red glass burning before each photo.

In 1996, we were praying for them.    Today, we are praying  TO THEM!


May 8 2020 Blessed Christian de Chergé and Companions, Martyrs

 Introit:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God!”   Alleluia!

My brothers,

Two dozen of us remember being here in March 1996, when the world was stunned by the kidnaping of seven Trappist monks in Algeria, being held for a prisoner exchange.

Our entire Order joined in days of prayer for their safe return.

56 days later, the world was electrified by news of their death.

France was horrified, every Catholic church tolled its bells at the same time in the monks’ memory.

Seven lives for God and for the Church of Algeria.

The fundamentalist rebels had warned all French:

“Leave Algeria or die! Algeria for Algerians! All foreigners out!”

but the monks chose to stay, sheep in the midst of wolves.

It was learned after the funeral, that Fr Christian had written a letter two years previous, forgiving his future persecutors, sealed the letter, left it with his mother in France, to be opened only upon his death.    It was his Last Testament,  an amazing account  of forgiveness.

In the face of this remarkable peacemaker,   who could forgive his enemies in advance,

let us be sorry for not being able to forgive    long  after the fact.

I confess, etc….

 The Gospel John 14:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.

You have faith in God; have faith also in me.

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.

If there were not,

would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?

And if I go and prepare a place for you,

I will come back again and take you to myself,

so that where I am you also may be.

Where I am going you know the way.”

Thomas said to him,

“Master, we do not know where you are going;

how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.

No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 After the Gospel:

 

“Who are these wearing white robes, and whence have they come?”    – Revelation 7:13

These are the seven monks of Tibhirine, who lived together,  died together, and will be remembered together for all eternity:

Dom Christian, age 59, the prior, 25 years in Algeria, a scholarly man who read both the Koran and the Bible in Arabic.

The Lay Brother Luc, the oldest at 82, the main cook,  the doctor who treated thousands of  Muslims during his 50 years in Algeria.

Father Christophe, the youngest at 45, the cantor and guitar player, in charge of  workers in the garden and orchard.

Brother Michel, 52, the quiet one, in charge of readings for the Divine Office, the lector at Mass, a cook.

Father Bruno, 66, superior of the annex house in Morocco, just visiting to take part in the election of a prior.

Father Célestin, 62; a former diocesan priest, a helper of street people and addicts,

who ended up a monk  in Algeria to help.

Brother Paul, 57, a blacksmith, professional plumber, the jack-of-all trades who did all the maintenance  work needed  to keep the monastery going.

 

They died together almost 25 years ago, but they’re still spreading the message of peace.

All of the murdered monks came from French monasteries to Our Lady of Atlas, in Tibhirine, Algeria, where they formed a typical monastic community, each with his own personality, his  individual gifts.

They got  caught in a war between the army and  extremist rebels who wanted to force the French  out of Algeria,

a war of terror  which ultimately claimed  44,000 people, mostly civilians,

including 150  imams who dared preach against violence.

 

The monks’ neighbors were all Muslims who trusted them,  considered them friends,

no different than any other inhabitant of the village,

and repeatedly asked them not to go and leave them helpless.

When push came to shove, the monks were  united in their choice of remaining in Algeria,

continuing their life of prayer and work,

helping  poor families with hand-me-downs, shoes, food, medicine as best they could,

witnessing how possible it is for people to live in peaceful co-existence.

 

The seven monks died together after 56 days of detention.

But they’re still spreading the gospel  of Christ’s love,

and challenging  the romantic notions we have of SAINTS …

that  Saints are special  people, who’ve been given  special gifts of mystical prayer or penance,

who live lives  out of the ordinary, do things  out of the ordinary,

work many miracles.

 

On the contrary,

all seven were markedly different, with his own sensitivities and opinions.

We’ll never know their temptations, or weaknesses or failings,

what personal obstacles they struggled with.

We do know that  through their perseverance, God’s Grace won out,

they were able to give of themselves,

and go together to the end of their journey,  singing the praises of God,

leaving a powerful witness to the world.

 

They’d likely smile now that their monastery has become a tourist hot-spot, a shrine of peace,

because all along,  they were simply Christians, living ordinary monastic lives,

fulfilling the Great Commandment:  love  God,  love your neighbor.

 

Blessed  Brothers of Tibhirine, pray for us that we also  may be found faithful!