9 Dec 2010

UPDATED Of Gods and Men - A Martyrs testament

The Community at Tibhirine
On the night of 26-27 March 1996, seven monks from the monastery of Tibhirine in Algeria, belonging to the Trappist Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.), were kidnapped in the Algerian Civil War. They were held for two months, and were found dead on 21 May 1996. The circumstances of their kidnapping and death remain controversial.

At about 1:15 AM on 27 March 1996, about twenty armed men came to the monastery of Tibhirine and kidnapped seven monks. Two others, in separate rooms, escaped the kidnappers' notice. After the kidnappers left, the remaining monks attempted to contact the police, but found that the phone lines had been cut. Because of the curfew in force, they had to wait until morning to drive to the police station in Medea. On 18 April, the Armed Islamic Group's communique no. 43 demanded the release of Abdelhak Layada as the price of the monks' lives. On 30 April, a tape with the voices of the kidnapped monks, recorded on 20 April, was delivered to the French Embassy. On 23 May, the Armed Islamic Group's communique no. 44 reported that the Armed Islamic Group had killed the monks on 21 May. The Algerian government announced that their heads had been discovered on May 31; their bodies' whereabouts are unknown. Their funeral Mass was celebrated in the Catholic Cathedral of Algiers on Sunday, June 2. They were buried in the cemetery of their monastery at Tibhirine on June 4, 1996.

The surviving monks of Tibhirine left Algeria, and have set up a monastery near Midelt in Morocco with help from other Trappist monks.

All seven monks killed were of French nationality. They were: Dom Christian de Chergé, Brother Luc Dochier, Father Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Father Bruno Lemarchand, Father Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville.

Of Gods and Men is a 2010 French drama film directed by Xavier Beauvois, starring Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale. The original French title is Des hommes et des dieux, which means "Of Men and Gods". It centers around the monastery of Tibhirine, where the Trappist monks lived in harmony with the largely Muslim population of Algeria, until seven of them were beheaded in a still unclear incident in 1996. The screenplay focuses on the time leading up to their death.

In the months leading up to their deaths, Dom Christian de Chérge wrote a brief testament, a single sheet written on both sides which was opened on Pentecost Sunday 26th May 1996. It reads as follows:

Dom Chritian de Chérge
Facing a GOODBYE.

If it should happen one day—and it could be today— that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the Sole Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me— for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to link this death with the many other deaths which were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value.

In any case it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly.

I should like, when the time comes, to have the moment of lucidity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. To owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, would be too high a price to pay for what will, perhaps, be called, the “grace of martyrdom,” especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on Algerians indiscriminately. I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism encourages. It is too easy to salve one’s conscience. By identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received from it, finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel, learnt at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, already in Algeria itself, in the respect of believing Muslims.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naïve, or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these people must realize that my avid curiosity will then be satisfied. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills — immerse my gaze in that of the Father, and contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of His Passion, and filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, playfully delighting in the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything. In this THANK YOU, which sums up my whole life to this moment, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families, the hundredfold granted as was promised!And also you, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, I also say this THANK YOU and this A-DIEU to you, in whom I see the face of God.

And may we find each other, happy good thieves, in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.


Algiers, December 1, 1993 – Tibhirine, January 1, 1994.

UPDATE: Further information about the martyrs of Atlas can be found here.

UPDATE 2: The Irish Times review.

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