Algerian martyrs: ever faithful to the people

The most important message from their beatification? The loyalty of these Christians to “their” people to the end.

“What do these 19 Christian martyrs teach us Algerians today? To give our lives for each other, without distinguishing by race or religion. They sacrificed their lives for us foreigners, for the Algerian people, Christians and Muslims. They also died for those who made war against them. This is why there was no question: we immediately made ourselves available and worked together for their beatification.” This was how Karima Kerzabi, a Muslim woman from the Focolare community in Algeria, responded when we telephoned her. We also called Giorgio Triulzi, one of the first focolarini to live at the Tlemcen focolare, since 1983, so we could hear insiders tell of the beatification of Christian martyrs at Orano on December 8.

It was a one-of-a-kind beatification, since this highest recognition given by the Catholic Church to its members occurred in Algeria, which is 99% Muslim. It is a country that from 1991 to 2001 – the “black decade” – saw death and destruction from Islamic fundamentalism. “Now the heroic lives of these Christians are being recognized,” explains Triulzi, “but what’s important to know is that, besides them, there were also thousands of Muslims among the population who were victims: imams, intellectuals, artists, journalists, doctors, lawyers, judges and teachers, as well as women and children. I think that the most important message that this beatification in the land of Islam can say to the world is that these martyrs stayed faithful to ‘their’ people until the end.”

Br. Christian De Chergé (left) in 1989 in Tlemcen with Bishop C. Rouault and Giorgio Triulzi

Triulzi remembers the many meetings with some of the Thibirine monks who have just risen to the honor of the altar, especially their prior, Fr. Christian De Chergé. “I got to know Christian because he often stayed with us at Tlemcen on his trips to Morocco. It was a simple rapport, as people who had given our lives to God, and for this reason we recognized each other as family. He was without a doubt a man of God, as he confirmed in writing his spiritual testament: “If one day it happens that – as it could even today – I become a victim of the terrorism that threatens to involve all foreigners who live in Algeria, I would want my community, my Church, my family to remember that my life was ‘given’ to God in this country.” “Christian and the others,”

Triulzi adds, “are saints because of the choice they made to stay among those who had become ‘their’ people. God puts us somewhere and we stay faithful to him. I must say that the beatification also confirms the lifestyle of faith of many who have stayed during this decade. It is the Church in Algeria that should be beatified, precisely because of the choice to stay faithful to the people here.” “What stays with me from this experience?” asks Karima. The fact that we can give our lives for all our brothers and sisters, and that this is something magnificent. In time we will understand the value of the gift of these lives.”

Stefania Tanesini

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