Statement from the bishops of Algeria

Our Church is celebrating!  Pope Francis has just authorised the signing of the Decree of Beatification of “Bishop Pierre Claverie and his 18 Companions”.

This grants us the grace of commemorating the memorial of our nineteen brothers and sisters as martyrs, that is to say (according to the true sense of the word) as witnesses to the greatest way of loving, that of giving one’s life for those one loves. Facing the ever-present danger of death, they made the choice of risking their lives, steadfastly maintaining to the end the bonds of fellowship and friendship that they had passionately forged with their Algerian neighbours. Those bonds of fellowship and friendship were even stronger than the fear of death.

These brothers and sisters of ours would never have agreed to our separating them from those among whom they gave their lives. They are witnesses to an unbounded fraternity,to a love that makes no distinctions. That is why their death shines a light on the martyrdom of so many others, Algerians, Muslims, seekers of the truth who, as decent men and women, peacemakers persecuted for justice, remained faithful unto death during that blood-soaked black decade in Algeria.

Our thoughts also reach out in a similar tribute to all our otherAlgerian brothers and sisters – and there are thousands of them – who are not afraid to risk their lives by remaining true to their faith in God, to their country and to their conscience. Among them we remember the 99 imams who lost their lives for refusing to endorse violence. We think of the intellectuals, the writers, the journalists, the scientists and artists, the servicemen and all those humble, anonymous mothers and fathers who refused to obey the orders of the armed groups. Many children were also swept up in that deadly violence.

We can reflect on the life of each one of our nineteen brothers and sisters. Every one of them died because, inspired by grace, they had chosen to remain faithful to those who, by their daily proximity (everyday bonds of living?) and mutual service, were their neighbours. Their deaths show that their lives were lived serving others: the poor, women in difficulty, handicapped people, the youth – all of them Muslims.

A vicious ideology, a deformation of Islam, rejected those who were of a different nationality or faith. Those who suffered the most at the time of their tragic deaths were their Muslim friends and neighbours, distressed that the name of Islam should be used to justify such acts.

But today we are not looking back at the past. These beatifications are a lamp for our present and our future. They tell us that hated is not the way to react to hatred, that there can be no inescapable spiral of violence. They need to be a step towards reconciliation and peace for all people, starting with Algeria but extending way beyond her borders. They need to be a prophetic word for our world, for all those who believe in and strive for harmony. And they are many, here in our country and throughout the world, of every nationality and of every religion. This is the deeper meaning behind Pope Francis’ decision. More than ever, our shared home, this planet of ours, needs that rich and beautiful humanity which each one of us brings.

These brothers and sisters of ours are also models for us on the path of everyday holiness. They are witnesses that a life which is simple yet totally given to God and to others can lead to the highest of human callings. They are not heroes. They didn’t die for an idea or for a cause. They were quite simply members of the small Catholic Church in Algeria which assumed the natural consequences of its choice of being an integral part of this country, despite its consisting mainly of foreigners and often being considered foreign itself. Every one of its members understood that when one loves someone, one doesn’t abandon them in time of need. That is the daily miracle of friendship and fellowship. Many of us knew them and lived alongside them. Today their lives belong to all. They now walk with us as pilgrims on our path of friendship and universal fellowship.

Algiers,   27th January 2018

+ Paul Desfarges, Archbishop of Algiers
+ Jean-Paul Vesco, Bishop of Oran
+ John MacWilliam, Bishop of  Laghouat
+ Jean-Marie Jehl, Administrator of Constantine

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