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