Just a Thought - Martyrs of Algeria.


Between 1994 to 1996 a group, nineteen in number, of mostly priests or professed religious and one archbishop were killed during the civil war in Algeria. The most noted were the Trappist monks, most of whom hailed from France.


Their collective cause for beatification opened in 2007. Within the last few days this has now been confirmed by the Vatican. The actual ceremony will take place in Oran, Algeria on 8th December 2018.


This is an historic event: the first time in our Christian history that people have been beatified in a Muslim country.


Of the group the ones I know most about were the seven Cistercian monks of Tibhirine. They were abducted in March 1996 from their monastery, 80 km south of Algiers. Their decapitated bodies were found in May of that year.


The reason I know about these men is that I have in my possession and have several times watched the DVD of Gods and Men. It is one of those rare movies that respectfully portrays the life of faith, the religious life, and most especially the value, use and meaning of liturgical prayer and the Eucharist. It was these that sustained the faith of those monks, especially when the civil war came close to them and they had to make some difficult and radical choices.


Many lessons can be taken from these monks - courage in the face of death, perseverance in keeping the faith. That is there in the scene where the abbot, Brother Christian, is walking through the fields where sheep are grazing. We know what he is thinking - why he cannot leave to save himself. He comes to a tree that is ancient. Again we know his thoughts: the tree has been there since long before he came to Algeria; long before he was born. It would be there long after his death. Its roots are deep.


Another scene - the monks are in their small chapel reciting Vespers/Evening prayer. They hear a chopper coming. Perhaps this is the time for their martyrdom. Their reaction is to draw close, face the stain glass window, put their arms around each other's shoulders and continue to sing louder in harmony, in defiance and in joy.


I loved the scene and the conversation between brother Christian and Brother Luc, where they discuss their decisions to remain at the monastery: 'to leave is to die'. Luc thinks about all he had seen in his lifetime, including the Nazi's. He acknowledges he is not afraid of death - that his real freedom has always been Christ-centered. A reminder that their story is one about freedom and victory.


Consider getting this DVD. Prayerfully watch it. Be open to what it can teach us about what is relevant for our lives and for the society we live in.


There is also a 'Last Supper' scene. Understanding that this could be their last meal together (they have already made the decision to stay and face the consequences), they fill their glasses with wine and instead of reading , as was the custom, they listen to Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake'. Here were men silently showing their love for God and for each other.


Later, the monks are taken prisoner. One of them, the eldest, evades capture. We see his silent grief at not being with his brothers.  A sad scene.


So, again, think about getting hold of this DVD. Watch 'Of Gods and Men' prayerfully. Be open to what it can teach us individually  and as a community. How is it relevant for the society we live in?  Offer some words to the 'martyrs of Algeria' that our church may use their story to gain wisdom, and show the value of sacrificial love.