Return to the Source : Day Four and Five

Rome, December 19. Dear brothers and sisters, if the first three days of our pilgrimage to the source were of intense spiritual depth, the fourth and fifth days were even more so, a true crowning of 150 years of Mission, in the Maghreb of course, but also everywhere else in Africa and in the world. When a fireworks display is fired to celebrate an event – the French, for example, are used to it on July 14 – the last shots are particularly rich in colour, saturation and detonations and are called the apotheosis of the fireworks display. This is how I felt on Saturday and Sunday, December 15 and 16 in La Marsa, Tunis and Carthage. A grandiose apotheosis!

Saturday morning, the bus came to pick us up in La Marsa to take us to the IBLA (Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes) where we met those who were staying at the diocesan institute. I will not reproduce here the words of the IBLA Director, our colleague Bonaventura Benjamin Mwenda, because the content was almost identical to the article he wrote to us in Petit Echo n° 1084, which you will find here. While Bonaventura spoke mainly about the present and future of the institute, André Ferré (84) spoke mainly about the past, and particularly about the painful event of the IBLA fire, in which one of our colleagues died and a large part of the IBLA books were destroyed by fire or by the water used by the fire brigade. He recalled the radical questioning of our presence through this institute, which is mainly dedicated to intellectual dialogue with Tunisians and to the academic support offered to Tunisian high school and university students. The secretary of the institute told us about the IBLA journal, which has never ceased to exist since its foundation, even if today the editorial board is exclusively Tunisian. The other members of the community intervened here and there with great enthusiasm, even our brother John McWilliam, who had to leave the IBLA, which he loved particularly, to dedicate himself to his diocese of Laghouat-Ghardaïa. We enjoyed the very tasty pastries that made us lick our lips during the long talks of our confreres and then, in groups, we visited the house which was finally well restored after the 2010 fire.

Fire that destroyed IBLA in 2010

We went down to the city centre and the Cathedral through the Medina. We were warned to stay together and be very careful with our bags, laptops and other cameras. Despite this, one of our confreres from Sfax had his mobile phone stolen. We had to hurry because a restaurant had been booked for a very specific time. I put this link found on the Internet to give you a little idea of the Medina.

After the meal, we returned to La Marsa where we had on the program testimonies about the Martyrdom of our four confreres who died in Tizi-Ouzou. The “panel” was composed of Sister Chantal Van Calck, who was a young WS profess at the time and who was supposed to start the Library project in Tizi-Ouzou with Christian Chessel, Brother Jan Heuft who had known our four confreres well, a (relatively) young confrere Vincent Kyererezi who is only connected to the four martyrs through his first appointment to Tizi-Ouzou, and finally, and certainly not the least, the Archbishop of Algiers, the Jesuit Paul Desfarges.  The testimonies were of an unusual density and extremely emotional. Interventions of a very high level, both on Saturday and on Sunday. It must be said that we had three bishops at all times: in addition to Bishop Desfarges, there were Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis and our colleague Bishop John McWilliam. The conditions under which I recorded the conference were not good, especially at the very beginning, but you should be able to follow it confortably enough… in French though!

The day wasn’t over yet. We were going to celebrate the Eucharist with Bishop Paul Desfarges, a very simple and holy man, as our main celebrant.

This is Bishop Desfarges’ homily recorded in French, and here is the text, translated in ENGLISH.

 

Return to the source : Day three

La Marsa (Tunis), 14th December 2018. Popular wisdom sees rain as a blessing. So we are not complaining. On the contrary, the rain will inspire us all along the way to imagine these men, women, young people and children, many of whom live in precarious conditions, and to pray that they may find more and more dignity, peace and joy in their lives. The journey to Thibar will be long, very long: 170 kilometres, with traffic jams at the beginning and winding mountain roads afterwards.

But what a joy to arrive in Thibar, this high place in our history! Many of our elders would have been happy to accompany us. Jean Fontaine is a privileged man, too happy to share some information and memories with us. As the bus approached the former scholasticate, I saw myself, barely a week ago, going through the photos in the archives. Thus, this scholasticate still exists, practically as it did at the beginning, at least in its external structure.

As we got off the bus, we were greeted by a man with an abundant smile, flanked by several colleagues and at least one policeman, who will supervise us throughout our visit. After all, we are not just anyone. We are White Fathers and White Sisters, whose ancestors created everything in the region. Very soon, we will realize that the principal and his school of agriculture and livestock breeding see themselves as the proud heirs of all this heritage created by our ancestors for the highest glory of God and the dignity of every man and woman.

We are welcomed in a conference room with water and fruit juices. The principal presents his school and his future development projects to us through a “powerpoint” presentation. He slipped old photos here and there into the presentation as if to show his attachment and gratitude to those who started it all here. There is even a photo of White Father scholastics. Jean Fontaine no longer keeps into place, approaches, looks more closely and declares turning around: “it’s Kalilombe”… the only African in this promotion of 1957, the year of my birth!

He then takes us through the main building, we pass through the corridors and climb the stairs where so many of our elders hurried to arrive in time for prayer or for class. That’s very impressive! We only see the upper part of the large chapel which has been divided in two in height and in several classes also on the surface.

We go out, it still rains. We therefore board the bus that will take us a few hundred meters further to the place called “La Cave” to which the wine cellar – the “Cave à vin” – has given its name. We enter the antechamber of a reception room in the centre of which we see a carved table and its heavy chairs, undoubtedly from the prime times. In the antechamber, a bottle of Thibarine is on display, as well as two bottles of wine, and in front of the bottles, ready for tasting, glasses half full of these precious liquids that continue to be produced since the White Fathers planted the vine over a hundred years ago. We see the eyes of the school principal and the person in charge of the Cellar sparkling with pride, rightly so. I ask one of the escorts if he drinks wine. He makes me understand in approximate French that he doesn’t drink it… today. It is true that it is Friday, the day of Prayer at the Mosque. But in Tunisia, people work on Fridays and rest on Sundays!

The rain continues its work and soaks the ground. It will be impossible for us to reach the cemetery, as we would risk getting the bus stuck in the mud. We will pray for our brothers and sisters Missionaries who died in Thibar, during the evening mass, presided this time by Didier Sawadogo. The latter will reflect so well what we all feel. We had to leave Thibar, but the Mission of “putting Human Beings upright” continues within the walls of the former scholasticate through this man with an abundant smile, so proud of a school that gives young people the ability to develop and live in dignity.

Sister Cécile could not be with us today, but she had prepared a booklet for the guide which you will certainly read with pleasure and interest.

Philippe Docq, M.Afr.

 
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Beatification of the Algerian martyrs

Here are a few pictures of the  beatification

 
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Memory of Christian Chessel, a testimony

On 8. December 2018, 19 Algerian martyrs will be beatified. One of them, Christian Chessel, we met in Rome during our studies. A few days ago, I was asked to make a few memories for a website article. Here you are…

Memory of Christian Chessel, Africa Missionary (White Father), new blessed of Church

8. December 2018 will be a special day. It is the 150th birthday of the society. On the same day, there are nineteen martyrs in Algeria, including four Missionaries of Afrika who were shot by militant Islamists on 27th December 1994 in Tizi-Ouzou (Algeria): Jean Chevillard, Alain Dieulangard, Charles Deckers and Christian Chessel, Christian, who was only 36 years old, and thus the youngest of the nineteen martyrs, remains in vivid memory.

After having entered the so-called “White Fathers” he came to Rome for a few years, to the Generalate of his community, where some of my confreres and I lived before we got our own house.

The Superior of his community had sent Christian to the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies (Pisai) and he was busy learning Arabic. I can still remember how he regretted not being German speaking, because in German-speaking cases it is much easier to pronounce the gutt and reibelaute such as the “ch which is almost an impossible thing for a French. To stay in good condition and keep fit, we saw him in winter with a fancy beanie jogging. He was a nice guy and had a winning way. We were all happy to be with him and we were happy to have dinner and chat together, or when he came to us to the anbetungsstunde.

We were also there when he was ordained a deacon in the chapel of the Missionaries of Africa. The moment was particularly impressive the moment he took his missionary oath, the hand over an arab gospel that had taken the first white fathers to the mission to Africa: these first missionaries had all been killed and only some time later In the sand of the Sahara this gospel was recovered together with the remains of the bones of the missionaries and other things that belonged to them.

On June 28th, 1992, the day before the feast of Peter and Paul, Christian was ordained a priest in Nice. He came to Tizi-Ouzou (Algeria), a mission of the White Fathers. In 1993, he moved to the Palestinian state of Palestine for a three months session. Before he finally left to Algeria, he came back to us in Rome, and we asked him what was the purpose for him to go to Algeria, to a place where you can’t be “right” because the public announcement of the Gospel is forbidden.
Christian told us: “the important thing is that the Church is also there for the salvation of people and that we also pray there and celebrate the Eucharist.”

Christian was not able to celebrate the Eucharist in Algeria for a long time. He was making a new library for the young people of Tizi-Ouzou. Shortly after Christmas 1994, a group of terrorists raided the mission and Christian was killed together with his confreres. The Eucharistic victim of the body and blood of Christ that was so close to him was sealed by the devotion of his own body and blood.
His picture for his First Mass, on which a schmerzensmutter (Pietà) is seen in dark robe, I often face and sometimes I pray that I, like Christian, have the courage to add my whole life to Christ and to his people.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who is himself Missionary of Africa said on November 24., 2018, during the oath and decaon’s ordination of three young Missionaries of Africa:
“The testimony that you are asked for can go to martyrdom (the word martyrdom means ” testimony “). Let’s think of our confreres in Algeria, who will be beatified as martyrs on December 8th and we think of all the confreres who have suffered a violent death and whose names are registered on the plaques in the crypt of the Generalate in Rome. The martyrdom is prepared by a given life, by constant acts of love and service.”

Andreas Hermann Fritsch
Priest of the Congregation of the Works

Beatification of the Algeria Martyrs, Testimony of Fr. Raphaël Deillon

On the occasion of the beatification of the martyrs of Algeria, Father Raphaël Deillon, White Father, diocesan delegate (Marseille) for relations with Muslims, testifies to the years spent in this country with his missionary brothers and sisters, the Christian community and tells us about the links forged with this people of Algeria.

A tribute to the martyrs of Algeria who will be beatified next Saturday and an encouragement to all our confreres – and to all the baptized – to live an active presence in the fracture zones.

 

Martyrs of their work

“In the eyes of men, they were punished but by their hope, they already had immortality”; Wisdom 3:4. This is an excerpt from the first reading for the solemnity of Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr, patron saint of North Africa.

Indeed, by their hope, the martyrs already possess immortality because “the life of the righteous is in the hand of God, no torment has taken over them”. (Wisdom 3:1)

This year, the feast of St. Cyprian coincided in some way with the joyful announcement of the beatification of our 19 new martyrs of the Church in Algeria (Bishop Claverie and his 19 Companions) which will take place in Santa Cruz, in Oran on December 8, 2018.

Like St. Cyprian, their departure from this world was seen as a misfortune (for those who do not think and those who have no hope). Some died, shot to death, others slit their throats like sheep, others stabbed coming back from Mass, others in explosions… When they left us, we thought they were destroyed,… (Wisdom 3:3). Nevertheless, since the blood of the martyrs is a seed of Christians,” said Tertullian, dying out of love and fidelity for this people and this country they loved so much, they are still bearing fruit!

My greatest surprise as a witness to their works and abundant fruits was on 16 September 2018, the very day of the feast of St. Cyprian. We had planned to make registrations for school support courses in English and French as every year for all levels (from primary school to university). Every year the number increases because we have become “victims of our success”. We knew there would be people on registration day because we have limited space, but not as much! At 7:48 am, after the lauds, I opened the portal in order to prepare for the registration to start at 8:30 am. Surprise! Surprise! 83 people already in front of the entrance gate, not to mention those who had passed through the small door of the library! Overwhelmed by the number, everything had to be turned upside down; no breakfast, a late lunch and no nap all week long, beating the record even on the waiting list! Most of those who came were heard saying “the Fathers have reopened the language school”, others “there is no better place than the White Fathers of Tizi”….others still saying “I have not slept to get there first and there have I found other parents already because you are the best”… So, meditating on all this, I said to myself, if so many people trust us for everything we do, it is not only because of us, but because of our predecessors who were at the origin of this seed. Dying, they were still bearing fruit; they became martyrs of their good works. Truly, they sparkle like a fire running through the straw. (Wisdom 3:7)

Indeed, “if the grain of wheat that has fallen to the ground does not die, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24), the gospel of the solemnity of St. Cyprian. After my meditation, I came to tell you… We, who were inspired by our martyred predecessors, through their works, may we pray that the Lord will help us to put more of our trust in him.

Vincent Kyererezi, M.Afr.
Tizi Ouzou

Living together

“Living Together” … This was the theme proposed by Algeria to all the countries of the world, through the UN, to celebrate May 16 each year. Thus, already the day before, on May 15, a rich debate took place on the Algerian radio and television on this theme with notably the participation of Mgr. Henri Teissier and other personalities of the country. The next day, a beautiful fresco was inaugurated at St. Augustine House, where precisely a group of people is called to share their daily life as ordinarily as possible “day after day”. But these are the people who already carry the weight of age, who have had, most of them, quite important responsibilities. Today, they are forced to get help from others. But they also have the task of making themselves ‘bearable’ to each other. Algerian and foreign friends are there, close to them to facilitate their task. We all know similar situations in our families, with our parents and relatives.

All of this echoes the meaning of the afternoon conference of May 16, at the Diocesan House, where a large audience of about 200 people, Muslims, Christians and freethinkers exchanged on this topic of “Living together”. A very nice introduction presented by some members of the Muslim brotherhood, named “Tarique des Alouines”, then by Mgr. Teissier and many other speakers who came spontaneously from the room, facilitated the depth and richness of the exchanges. With each example cited, it follows that if we would like to advance on the road to peace, it is essential to respect one another, whether one is a Muslim, a Christian or a free-thinker. Thinking about the future beatification of the 19 martyrs of the years 1990 – 2000, we note that the life of each martyr was precisely a testimony of simple life, true and engaged in the “coming and going” of every day. By putting yourself in tune with the “ordinary” we realize “the extraordinary”! That is to say: love each other!

Having been all my life in touch with the disabled, migrants, refugees, “people unlike everyone else”, I could feel, how hard it is to be accepted in the difference and to feel different.That’s why a day on the theme “Living together” is important. Building “bridges” between different opinions and different religions is important, I would say an obligation for everyone. This day of May 16 reminded us all of this.

« The ftour »

(Ftour or Iftar (Arabic: إفطار‎ ʾifṭār ‘break fast’) is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. Muslims break their fast at the time of the call to prayer for the evening prayer. This is their second meal of the day; the daily fast during Ramadan begins immediately after the pre-dawn meal of Suhur and continues during the daylight hours, ending with sunset with the evening meal of Iftar. (Wikipedia)

It is in the sense of this text above that we were able to live in the “Sources” (a district of Algiers), a week later, May 25, a convivial meal of Ramadan where were present not less than 75 people, mostly Muslims, but with the presence of some Christians and in the house of a Christian.

The beginning of the Ramadan meal invariably begins with the wish “Ghafrou Baadakoum” (forgive one another). The meal was followed by a beautiful evening of poetic songs that touched our hearts. We really parted in a deep atmosphere of peace and well being. But other similar signs could be observed during this holy month. Despite all the painful and sometimes brutal repressions at the borders of sub-Saharan migrants, positive moments have been experienced in several places. Every evening, when I went to the bus station of Algiers, migrants were welcomed with “open arms” at the table of the “ftour” before accompanying them to the bus for a voluntary return to their country of origin. It was really touching. Moreover these moments of conviviality towards those who had nothing to eat were repeated for many in the city and in the country. . We saw them share at the El Harrach railway station. Then in the street of Didouche Mourad in Algiers. There a table of more than a hundred meters was erected so that all those who wanted to sit there could have a meal, including women.

Yes, we can say that this year, the time of Ramadan was also a grace filled time of meeting each other, putting into practice the beautiful theme of May 16: “Living Together”.

Algiers June 15 2018
1st day Aïd Seghir
Jan Heuft, M.Afr.

The necessity of constant renewal (PE nr. 1088 – 2018/02)

Seniors’ Sessions

I was asked to write an article for the Petit Echo. I have already published six articles about IBLA (Institut des belles lettres arabes) in Tunis: in 1972, on its library, in 1977, commemorating the 40 years of the journal, in 1987, celebrating 50 years of the journal, in 2008 an overview of the work of the Institute, and again in 2008 on its 70th anniversary without forgetting an article on my journey to the Sahel in 1991. Continue reading “The necessity of constant renewal (PE nr. 1088 – 2018/02)”