The Trappist Martyrs of Atlas
The murder and martyrdom of Westerners and Christians taking place throughout parts of the Muslim world are always deeply disconcerting, especially when one considers how the recent flare ups have been provoked by fundamentalist Christian zealots who commit provocative acts in the name of Christ. In contempt for the religious convictions of non-Christians they desecrate that which the others reverence. Both sides seem to have their share of misguided extremists.
These days I have been thinking much about the Trappist martyrs of Atlas, the monks who were beheaded by terrorists in Algeria in the 1990's. It is expected that these martyrs can act as special patrons to the Church in these days of bloody persecution, yet they also can be models and examples to individuals on how one ought to conduct oneself in the dark night of terrorism.
I was delighted to find that Idle Speculations posted on the martyrs, linking to a Cistercian site containing the last testament by Dom Christian de Cherge, the superior of the group. I will reprint Fr. Christian's testament here.
Last Testament of Christian de Cherge.
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 and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference or 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 to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death.
It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice
if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay
for what will perhaps be called, the "grace of martyrdom"
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,
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 the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one's conscience
by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel
which I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church,
precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm
those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
"Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!"
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father
to contemplate with him His children of Islam
just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,
the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit
whose secret joy will always be to establish communion
and restore the likeness, playing with 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 is said for everything in my life from now on,
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,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a "GOD-BLESS" for you, too,
because in God's face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
AMEN ! INCHALLAH !
Algiers, 1st December 1993
Tibhirine, 1st January 1994
The humble gird on strength...
Friends have asked me to see the film Of God's and Men, but it is Lent and I can wait for the DVD. I have also read the book, How Far To Follow, an account of the Atlas martyrs. I try to keep the message in my heart, but it is sometimes difficult when I think of the sufferings of those continually facing similar death sentences, and most especially after the recent killings in Afghanistan. I don't believe I'm afraid of death or terrorism for myself, I actually look forward to dying one day. What I fear the most is mortal sin and living in a state of sin - devoid of compassion and charity.
The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink? - Ps. 27
Photo: Grave of Fr. Christian. About 10 years ago now, a Trappist friend, Fr. Tom sent me sand from the martyr's graves.