In March of 1996, seven Trappist monks from the Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas were murdered outside of Medea in Algeria. The story of the ordeal is artfully told in a movie I watched last night, “Of Gods and Men” (2010.) Fr. Christian, the prior, wrote this piece he called his “Testament,” in Advent, 1993, to be read after his death:
“When an A-DIEU is envisaged …
If it should happen one day–and it could be today–that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, my family,
– to remember that my life was given to God and to this country;
– to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure;
– to pray for me–for how should I be found worthy of such an offering!
– to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones that have been allowed to fall into the indifference of 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, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that evil which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have enough lucidity to beg forgiveness of God and of my brothers and sisters in the human family, and at the same time to 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 don’t 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 be called, perhaps, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I know the contempt in which the Algerians as a whole can be held. I know, too, the caricatures of Islam which encourage a certain Islamism. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience in identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are body and soul. I have proclaimed it enough, I think, seeing and knowing what I have received from them, finding here so often that direct line bringing the gospel that I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first church, finding it precisely in Algeria, and already in the reverence of believing Muslims.
My death, obviously, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of them!” But these must know that at last my most insistent curiosity will be satisfied. For this is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of his Passion, filled with the gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness in playing with the differences. For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in and in spite of everything. In this thank-you where, once and for all, all is said about my life, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, O my friends of this place, at the side of my mother and my father, of my sisters and my brothers and their families–the hundredfold given as he had promised!
And you, too, my last-minute friend, who would not have known what you were doing; yes, for you too I say this thank-you and this a-diary–to commend you to the God in whose face I see yours. And may he grant to us to find each other, happy thieves, in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. Amen! Inshallah!” *
Here is not a man who wished to live an easy and convenient universalism or an equally easy and convenient (but ultimately violent) exclusionism. Here is a man who sought, under incredible pressure, to live faithful to God’s law of perfect love.
* From the website: http://lovingjustwise.com/martyrdom.htm