Third Islamic-Christian Marian Day at Our Lady of Africa Basilica (PE nr. 1092 – 2018/06)


Alger, 5 May 2018

In 2016, the young Rector of the Our Lady of Africa Basilica, Fr. Anselm Tarpaga, M.Afr from Burkina Faso launched a project that was somewhat daring and risky. He organised an Islamic-Christian Marian Day. Convinced of the importance of creating a space for conviviality and reflection, he wants to live fully the charism of the White Fathers without adopting a wait-and-see attitude or playing a minor role: he wants, with all these confreres, to become a committed player and to. give a taste for dialogue  to others.

By 2018, this initiative of the White Fathers has already been confirmed as a friendly meeting place, open to all who, in Algeria, want to promote friendship between Christians and Muslims. In Algiers, the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa with its exceptional surrounding and its reputation as a place of peace and open spirituality was the ideal location. Many thanks to the civil and religious authorities who cooperated in one way or another to the success of the day.

The ‘Farmers’ Market’ foreseen for the Esplanade in front of the Basilica could not take place for scheduling reasons. Maybe it was a bit of luck because a strong wind and intermittent showers would have seen off any possible buyers and maybe even the produce on display!

Information about the event was spread by posters and brochures, social media, through our lists of friends and benefactors, through the local press (our thanks to our friends who used their contacts and drew the attention of national and foreign journalists as well as the different TV stations.) In total, more than 300 admission tickets were applied for by way of our website ( Other people arrived in the hope of finding a little bit of space because the idea of living together interested them greatly.

When Fr. Michael O’Sullivan, the Rector of the Basilica, addressed his welcoming remarks to the assembled gathering, the nave of the Basilica was packed to the rafters thanks to the presence of ordinary citizens, representatives of the civil authorities, members of the diplomatic corps, the representative of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, other associations, researchers, some well wishers and a good part of the Catholic community of Algiers in all its diversity. The Archbishop of Algiers, Paul Desfarges SJ, and Cheikh Hamdan Sahalli,  the Imam of the mosque “Al-Oumma” (in our neighbourhood) likewise said a few words emphasising the importance of the day and its theme.

The long-awaited round table discussions began at 10.40. Here is a list of the speakers and what they talked about. They were all, with one exception, women.

Mme Malika LAFER (joint presenter of the programme  “Knowing Islam” on Channel 3 TV in Algiers): Using the radio for education

Mme Samira Mekhaldi (“mourchida” or religious guide ): “Feminine experience of passing on the faith”.

Mme Fazia Belaidi : from La Revue Hayat (co edited by the Red Crescent and Caritas Algeria):  “An Islamic- Christian experience in favour of women”.

One of the speakers at the 3rd Islamic-Christian Marian Day

Mme Felicia Volpicella (Catechist of the Italian speaking community) : “Adolescents and their education in the context of a religious and linguistic minority”.

Dr Mustafa CHERIF (Former Minister and Algerian Ambassador) : “The Blessed Virgin venerated by the Muslims, in conformity with the Qur’an and the Prophetic Tradition”.

Two musical interludes, magnificently interpreted by the maestro Djamel Ghazi, allowed the participants to prepare questions for the panelists during two rounds of questions. The participants put questions to the speakers, in Arabic or French but they also questioned the authorities responsible for the preservation of the patrimony and the cultural and religious diversity of Algeria. One felt from these questions posed by the public little used to big philosophical discussions , a real desire to live in peace and harmony.

At 13.00 hours, a long and noisy procession left the Basilica and made its way to the Parish courtyard where a generous meal was served. However, it must be said that many were deceived not to find the traditional “Marian couscous” on the menu whose recipe intrigues everyone who read about it in the programme. It was, nevertheless, to multiply the contacts, to take ‘selfies’, exchange addresses and speak of common projects…up to the point when the ever menacing rain began to fall gently on us. Happily it was the time for the reopening of the Basilica for those who wanted to attend the closing concert due to begin at 15.00.

Questions and contributions from the participants at the 3rd Islamic-Christian Marian Day

Thanks to the kindness of the Italian Ambassador, a group named Prima Prattica Ensemble composed of nine members and specialists in the art of singing A capella and polyphony, delighted us with the quality of their singing. A religious silence accompanied the hymns and songs in honour of the Virgin Mary ranging from the XVth  century to the XXth century. A real gift from heaven.

After closing the Basilica and making sure everything was back in its proper place, the team of three White Fathers (Michael from Ireland, Benoît Mwana Nyembo from DRC and myself from Spain) collapsed on to the sofa in the house thanking God for a great day. We did very well to organise such an event. Over a celebratory aperitif, we reviewed the day’s events and swapped the many amusing anecdotes that we saw and heard. Even if nobody mentioned it, we all had the same idea in our heads, what about the 4th Islamic-Christian Marian day. Who wants to help us make it a reality?

José María Cantal Rivas, M.Afr.

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