Many want more time to show that it's not only about honoring Christians, but also Algerian imams who died opposing Islamic fundamentalism
June 21, 2018
The martyrs. (Image by Thomas Georgeon)
Since the publication last January of a decree on the beatification of Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran and his 18 companions who were killed in Algeria in the 1990s, the Church of Algeria has been mulling over the details of the celebration itself.
The bishops and vicars-general have recognized that their proposal to have a celebration in autumn 2018 in Oran is no longer realistic because of “organizational deadlines.”
On June 18 they met in Algiers with the apostolic nuncio and discussed the issue of holding the beatification of the 19 martyrs, including the seven monks of Tibhirine, who were murdered in the 1990s and recognized as martyrs by the Vatican on Jan. 27.
“Until now, we had been awaiting a response from the Holy See on the proposals we had made to celebrate it in Oran in autumn 2018,” they wrote in a joint message distributed among members of the Church of Algeria. “Today, the organizational deadlines no longer make this proposed date realistic.”
More time needed
“This gives us the opportunity to have more time to associate more broadly everyone concerned with the success of this celebration: the Holy See, the religious congregations, families, public authorities and local communities,” the bishops added. “The decision on the date for this celebration, therefore, cannot be made before this autumn. We shall inform you as soon as we decide,” they said.
Since Rome issued the beatification decree only in January, the bishops have realized that there is not enough time to organize such a large celebration in Algeria.
In principle, beatifications are celebrated in the country where future saints had lived.
In this case, it would be particularly meaningful to hold it where the 19 martyrs lived and chose to remain at the side of their Algerian and Muslim friends, despite the threat. They include Bishop Claverie and the Tibhirine monks, as well as four white fathers, a Marist priest and six nuns from different congregations (Our Lady of the Apostles, Augustine Missionaries, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart and Little Sisters of the Ascension).
But the Algerian political and religious context complicates matters. The Catholic Church is numerically very week, and even if it sees itself today as a “national” body, it is still often viewed as a foreign entity in this Muslim-majority country.
Moreover, the authorities emphasise that “national reconciliation” following a decade of violence between the military and the Islamists -- which claimed the lives of some 150,000 Algerians (though the exact number of victims is unknown) -- had led to obscuring the memory of the bloody years. And, finally, 2019 is a presidential election year.
Questions have also surfaced within the Church of Algeria concerning the date, place and details of the celebration.
Many want more time to show that it’s not only about honoring “Christians killed by Muslims, but (Christians killed) with Muslims”. They also want to include the witness of all those — journalists, teachers and even Algerian imams — who paid with their lives for their opposition to Islamic fanaticism.
A special time for Algeria
“The choice of celebrating the beatification in Algeria makes a great deal of sense, but it is also more complicated,” said Bishop Jean-Paul Vesco OP of Oran.
“That will necessarily have an impact on the celebration itself. We want it to be in the colors and dimensions of the Algerian Church and see that it centers on the Algerian Muslims,” he added.
“This is a moment for the church (the Universal Church, the Church of Algeria and the religious congregations concerned), a moment for the country and a moment for perspectives … We feel we need time to make sure they coincide...”
Additionally, the Vatican has still not indicated whether the pope will accept the invitation to visit Algeria, which the country’s bishops extended during an audience with him on Sept. 1, 2017.
In late April, the Algerian Ambassador to the Holy See, Abdelhamid Senouci Bereksi, had announced to the major Arabic-language daily Echourouk that his country had “given its agreement” to the idea.
“The [pope’s] visit is important and that’s why it must be welcomed by all Algerians, because there is a humanitarian element and sign of tolerance connected to it and will offer a positive image of our country,” he had said.