The martyrs of Algeria declared “blessed”:
“Bishop Claverie and his 18 companions”
Last week, Pope Francis signed a decree approving the beatification of the late Bishop of Oran, Bishop Pierre Claverie, who was assassinated during the dark years of Algerian terrorism from 1990 to 2000 as well as 18 other sisters, priests and brothers.
We are not only speaking of the 7 Trappist monks of Tibhirine but also of the four White Fathers, who are less well known, of Tizi-Ouzou also in Algeria. These confreres had been taken from the first floor of their house on the 27 th December 1994 to be shot in the courtyard.
The Terrorists were dressed in police uniforms and had locked the cook and his daughter in the kitchen.
The previous day, at midday exactly, I had celebrated the 70th birthday of Fr. Charles Deckers, a Belgian, at the presbytery of Notre-Dame d’Afrique in Algiers where he was engaged in pastoral work. Some years previously, the Governor of Kabylia had expelled him from the region. He had worked there for the past 20 years in youth education and training the local football club. On the 27th December, early in the morning, he left for Tizi-Ouzou in order to celebrate the feast day of Jean Chevillard, a French confrere, as it was the feast of St. John the Evangelist.
Charles had hardly got out of his car, before he was shot. His White Father burnous remained forlornly on the back seat of the car. Jean was practically at the door of his social centre where, each day, he received the poorest men and women in order to help them deal with bureaucratic problems regarding their retirement, social welfare, divorce procedures with or without alimony. Jean had also been, over many years, the Regional Treasurer, the Regional Superior and the Director of a Vocational Training Centre.
Fr. Alain Dieulangard was quite a different character. For a very long time, he was the director of many primary schools in the small Berber villages of the mountainous region of Kabylia. He was very close to the poor and always ready to be of help to them. He knew the Berber language perfectly. At the same time, he was a very spiritual man who spent many hours in prayer. He transmitted this spirituality with much enthusiasm to the Muslims living around him and with them; he looked for the God’s presence in their everyday life.
The youngest confrere to die was Christian Chessel, who had spent only a few years in Algeria. In a sense he was the ‘future’ of our community at Tizi-Ouzou. He was completely integrated as a student at the University of Tizi-Ouzou when he had been following courses in Civil Engineering. He enjoyed excellent relationships with his fellow students. Each day, he commuted between the White Fathers’ house and the university before he was involved in a terrible road accident in which our colleague Fr. Louis Garnier (+1993) was killed. His parents were deeply upset by the murder of their son and it took them many years to finally accept his sacrifice. They had his body flown home for burial in the family vault in France.
A fifth confrere from Belgium narrowly escaped. A few days before, he had decided the leave the region because he had a premonition that “something was going to happen.” He still remembers that fatal day. He was, for many years, a confrere exceptionally devoted to the local population and his departure does not detract from his efforts. Sometimes it takes more courage to leave than to stay.
On the terrible day of the four murders, the chief of police called me to give me the bad news. He was crying and asking forgiveness because he could not prevent it. Many friends and acquaintances expressed their shock and their regrets before this incomprehensible event. At the funeral, the whole town was there to show their disapproval for this cowardly act and the crowd chanted in a loud voice: “These were men of God in whom we put our trust.” They could not have paid a higher compliment to these confreres.
Thinking again about our confreres as well as the other fifteen martyrs, I can only say, “God has chosen the best among us for martyrdom, may they be our ancestors in heaven.”
Eindhoven, the 31st of January 2018
Brother Jan Heuft, MAfr
Translated from French by : Ian Buckmaster
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