ALGIERS, Algeria (CNS) — The beatifications of 19 martyrs in Algeria will be a “great joy” to the Church and will help unite Christians and Muslims of the country, said a French-Algerian archbishop.
The beatifications represent “hope for the future” rather than a “complaint about the past,” said Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers, the largest city in the North African country.
His words came in a commentary published Dec. 5 on the website of the French bishops’ conference alongside a 24-page pastoral letter, written by the French-born archbishop in November.
Archbishop Desfarges said he looked forward to the Dec. 8 beatifications with “complete confidence,” saying he expected the event to unite Christians and Muslims of the country in deeper friendship.
“This beatification is not a ceremony just for Christians,” he explained, but was an honor for all Algerian Christians and Muslims who were now “living together in peace.”
The Catholic martyrs, the archbishop said, would be popularly associated with “114 imams who refused to condone violence during the dark decade” of the Algerian civil war of the 1990s.
“During the civil war, there were also a number of journalists, writers, artists, and fathers and mothers who disobeyed armed groups,” he said. “Some were faithful to their faith, to their consciences, to their love of their country, and they have, unfortunately, died. We cannot honor our martyrs without taking all others in our prayers, praises or thanksgivings.
“In 2018, we live in a world without belief, where fraternity is threatened, and in particular with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We are able to say that, through this ceremony, it is possible to live relationships of friendship, fraternity and appreciation with Muslims.”
The martyrs include seven French Trappist monks kidnapped from a monastery at Tibhirine in 1996 and later beheaded, and French-born Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran, who was blown up in the same year by a remote-controlled bomb fixed to his garage.
The monks’ story was treated in the film “Of Gods and Men,” which won the grand prize at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.
The other martyrs include six women religious and five other male religious killed between 1993 and 1996 as Algeria was locked in a 10-year-long armed conflict between government forces and extremist Islamic rebel groups; as many as 200,000 people died.
They will be beatified in the Sanctuary of the Holy Cross, Oran, by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, after Pope Francis signed a decree in January recognizing them as martyrs.
Archbishop Desfarges, who said he had known Bishop Claverie so long that they were like brothers, said the martyrs were an “icon … of what our Church is” because, although their lives were in danger, they refused to leave their Algerian brothers and sisters during the crisis.