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.
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.