“A great joy. With the beatification of 19 martyrs the Church restores them as models of Gospel witness in this Country”, said Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers, highlighting the feelings of the Catholic Church of Algiers and of the entire Country ahead of the beatification of nineteen Christian martyrs killed between 1994 and 1996. The beatification ceremony will take place on Saturday December 8 at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Oran. Pope Francis has nominated Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the causes of Saints, as his “special envoy.” “These men and women gave their lives to God, offering their service, friendship, encounter and fraternity on a daily basis”, pointed out the archbishop of Algiers. “When faced with this ordeal they didn’t think of saving their lives. They decided to continue serving as travel companions for their Algerian brothers and sisters who, just as them, were enduring violence and apprehesion.”
“They never abandoned their brothers and sisters. They decided to remain near them until the end.” Mons. Desfarges, what is the message of these martyrs to the Church of Algeria today?
Their witness epitomizes the meaning of the life of our Church in Algeria, that is, to bear witness to God’s love for everyone, without distinctions. Our Blessed sisters and brothers were ordinary men and women. They weren’t heroes. They never considered themselves martyrs or Blessed, yet they donated their life. Through their beatification the Church is telling us that this is the path we must continue to follow.
It was decided that the Beatification will be celebrated in Algeria. How important is this choice and what’s its meaning?
We are pleased to live this beatification here in Algeria. We believe it is important to celebrate it not only among Christians must also with our many Muslim friends who also experienced martyrdom. Ninety-nine Imams were killed because they refused to justify violence in the name of God and of religion, many intellectuals, journalists and writers were killed with them.
For the Muslim population who are the martyrs that will be beatified next Saturday?
They are brothers and sisters whom they recognize and honour with gratitude. For them, to participate in some way in this beatification expresses the fact that these martyrs were not killed by Islam but by an ideology that debases their religion.
Those who committed these heinous murders transformed Islam in a parody of itself, into an ideology of violence and death. In the history of Algeria violence trounced not only Christians, it was also carried out against Muslims. They were killed simply because they remained true to their heart, to their conscience.
For the first time Christian martyrs will be proclaimed Blessed in a Muslim country. How should we interpret this sign?
It’s an important sign. Authorities have understood the true meaning we want to give to this celebration, namely:
to witness that living together is possible, that believers can proceed together hand in hand. The Beatification ceremony will be attended by national authorities and by many Imams. This is the truest image of Islam lived and practised by most Algerians: an Islam of tolerance, peace and encounter, open to the Church and to other religions.
What is the heritage passed on to today’s Algeria by the new Blesseds?
Today Muslims and Christians are called to walk together. The world needs these witnesses, it needs experiences of brotherly love which show that walls can be overcome by welcoming and sharing what we deem most beautiful and spiritual, recognizing each other as sisters and brothers in the depth of our faith. These martyrs are the victims of one of the darkest pages in the history of Algeria.
They tell us that walls can only lead to tensions, to lasting rifts, and to wars. Today, as the Pope says, is the time to build bridges not walls. In your opinion, what is Pope Francis’s message to the Church with this beatification? The Pope has closely followed the beatification cause. I think he is especially sensitive to the martyrdom of love. It’s moving to see that the life of these brothers and sisters reflects the path that Pope Francis is indicating to the Church. In his latest exhortation “Gaudete et exsultate” he indicates the holiness of ordinary things with a special expression: “being the saints next-door.” It means to see the face of holiness in the other person that is knocking at our door. But in order to do so we must be able to see the depths of that person’s heart. This is what the martyrs who will be beatified have done. That’s how they acted towards everyone, without distinction.