AFRICA/ALGERIA – The canonization of Charles de Foucauld and the mission of the "Churches of the Visitation" – Agenzia Fides

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Constantine (Agenzia Fides) – Charles de Foucauld will be proclaimed a saint on May 15 in Rome. But in the lands where Brother Charles of Jesus gave his life, his holiness already accompanies the multiform Christian communities scattered throughout the Maghreb. In Algeria, the country where Foucauld lived a good part of his incomparable spiritual adventure and where he was killed on December 1, 1916, bishops and representatives of the various ecclesial communities present in the country have begun to discuss how to trace the path towards the ceremony of canonization. “A program is being developed”, says to Fides Nicolas Lhernould, 46, Bishop of Constantine. There is already a booklet in French and Arabic with the life and the main ideas of the spirituality of the future saint, and also an itinerant exhibition created in 2016, on the occasion of the centenary of his death, now on display in the Notre Dame basilica d’Afrique, in Algiers, which will be used again to make his story and spirituality known. The possibility of local pilgrimages of our communities to the places where Brother Charles lived is also being evaluated. They will be “family” pilgrimages of small groups, not multitudinous pilgrimages. In harmony with the trait of discretion and smallness that characterizes our ecclesial experience”.
The announced canonization of Charles de Foucauld – Bishop Lhernoud points out – “is part of a series of events and anniversaries that touch our present and our ecclesial memory. We are still commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of Cardinal Léon-Étienne Duval, who was Archbishop of Algiers from 1954 to 1988 and led the Algerian Church in the crucial years of decolonization and independence. For us, the recent recognition of the heroic virtues of Magdeleine of Jesus, who in 1939 founded the Little Sisters of Jesus in Touggourt, in the Algerian Sahara, in the footsteps of Charles de Foucauld, is also charged with suggestion. And then there is the actuality of the martyrs and saints of these lands, from St Augustine to Pierre Claverie, Bishop of Oran killed in 1996, and his 18 companions, including the 7 monks of Tibhirine, beatified in 2018 on the ‘esplanade of coexistence’ of the sanctuary of Santa Cruz in Oran”.
For Catholics in Algeria, the path towards the canonization of Charles de Foucauld and the other conjunctures referred to by Bishop Nicolas above all represent precious opportunities to rediscover their own vocation to be “Church of Nazareth, of relationship and encounter”, reliving their own free familiarity with the thirty years of “hidden life” lived by Jesus before starting his public mission. “The situation in which we live”, explains the Bishop of Constantine – makes it increasingly clear that we are here first of all to be welcomed. And Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew says: ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me’ ” . For this reason, one of the Gospel stories that one looks at with more emotion is that of the Visitation, with the Virgin Mary who readily goes to visit Elizabeth.. The perception of being “Churches of the Visitation” had already surfaced in the pastoral letter “Servants of Hope”, released in 2014 by the Catholic Bishops of the Maghreb as a shared contribution to help everyone to read the “signs of the times”. The precious prophetic insights disseminated in that document drew from a rare and powerful sensus Ecclesiae, all nourished by the grateful recognition of being neither the first actors nor the owners of the apostolic work. In the condition in which the Christian communities of the Maghreb countries live – it was pointed out in the document – there is no need to be agitated to create artificial occasions for meeting others, nor to worry about seeking artificial justifications for one’s “being there”. Life itself provides the framework for a possible encounter with Muslim brothers: “Family and social events, religious holidays, circumstances of all kinds are so many opportunities offered to get to know each other better, help each other, meet each other”. Far from any conquest, the mission is a Visitation. As in the story of the Visitation, the Holy Spirit is the architect of the encounter, opening ourselves to give thanks for the fruits received, fruits that are always surprising”.
In the 2014 document, even the solicitous and operative ecclesial predilection addressed to all the poor in those societies with a Muslim majority, regardless of religious and cultural differences, appeared stripped of any residue of welfare: “Of living this Good News announced to the poor, and therefore the priority message of the Gospel”, we read in that text, “we are a source of pride, we live on hope drawn from the very heart of Christ”. “In recent years – confides Bishop Nicolas Lhernould – the trait of an industrious charity at the service of people, hand in hand with Muslims, in a concrete experience of brotherhood is felt with even greater intensity. This is the testimony that we can and want to give. A sharing that has ancient roots. Charles de Foucauld himself confessed in a letter written to Louis Massignon, on April 1, 1916, eight months before his death, almost a final testament: “There is no word of the Gospel, I believe, that has made a greater impression on me and transformed my life more than this: ‘everything you did to one of these little ones, you did it to me’”.
At Christmas 2005, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est”: «Love is free; it is not exercised to achieve other purposes. […] Whoever exercises charity in the name of the Church will never try to impose the faith of the Church on others. He knows that love in its purity and gratuitousness is the best testimony of the God in whom we believe and by whom we are moved to love. The Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is right to be silent about Him and let love speak only. He knows that God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4: 8) and he makes himself present precisely in the moments when nothing else is done except to love” (n.31c). Already in July 1904, from the south of Béni Abbès, Charles de Foucauld wrote to Marie de Bondy, his cousin: “The natives welcome us well. […]. When will they be able to distinguish soldiers from priests and see in us servants of God, ministers of peace and charity, universal brothers? I do not know. If I do my duty, Jesus will pour out abundant graces, and they will understand”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 14/12/2021)

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