Sunday, August 17, 2014

Contemplating martyrdom: The Trappist Martyrs of Atlas

The seven monks of Atlas, in Algeria, 
anticipated martyrdom by their monastic profession. 

The Trappist Martyrs of Atlas

Once again I have been thinking much about the Trappist martyrs of Atlas, the monks who were beheaded by terrorists in Algeria in the 1990's.  I expect 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.

From the journals of Father Christian and Luc:
“We welcomed that Child who was born for us, absolutely helpless, and already so threatened. Afterwards we found salvation in undertaking our daily tasks: the kitchen, garden, the prayers, the bells. Day after day. We had to resist the violence. And day after day, I think each of us discovered that to which Jesus Christ beckons us. It’s to be born. Our identities as men go from one birth to another. And from birth to birth, we’ll each end up bringing to the world the child of God that we are. The Incarnation, for us, is to allow the filial reality of Jesus to embody itself in our humanity. The mystery of Incarnation remains what we are going to live.” - Fr. Christian

“I was recently reading this “pensée” of Pascal’s: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction.” Here there is confusion and violence. We are in a “risky” situation but we persist in our faith and our confidence in God. It is through poverty, failure and death that we advance towards him. Heavy and devastating downpours have not curbed the violence that is infiltrating itself everywhere. Two opponents are present, one wants to hold on to power, the other seize it. They are fighting with their backs against the wall. I don’t know when or how it will all end. In the meantime, I perform my duty… Caring for the poor and the sick, awaiting for the day or the time to close my eyes. My dear friend, pray for me, may my exit from this world be done in the peace and joy of Jesus.” - Fr. Jean-Luc
A martyr's testament of charity.

Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé (opened on Pentecost Sunday, May 26,1996)

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 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 !

Algiers, 1st December 1993 Tibhirine, 1st January 1994 Christian +

For the story of the martyrs, go here.

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. - Dom Christian


  1. Beautiful reflection! It gives me hope that all is not in vain. I am planning to watch the movie about what happened to them since their story is a courageous one.

    Thank you, Terry.

  2. "my last-minute friend"

    Such sanctity can only come from Jesus, living in us daily.

    1. Yes! I so want that sanctity.


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