2023-05-08 FRANCE

8 May, anniversary of the death of Brother Henri Vergès

On the occasion of the anniversary of the death of Brother Henri Vergès, on 8 May 1994, in Algiers, here are some reflections written for Brother Alain Delorme which will help the reader to keep alive the memory of this brother who, for 25 years, gave his life in the service of Algerian youth, beatified with 18 other martyrs of Algeria, religious men and women, on 8 December 2018 in Oran.

See here other resources on Brother Henri Vergès.

Brother Henri Vergès, a vulnerable man

The life and martyrdom of Henri Vergès from the angle of vulnerability

The one who “offers to take”, who forgets himself in order to open his heart to others, is vulnerable. Brother Henri Vergès, through his commitment to religious life, lived only for the Lord and the proclamation of the Gospel. He was a “wounded” man, the exact opposite of those of whom Charles Péguy speaks: “Who do not cover themselves with grace, because not being wounded, they are not vulnerable”. (Morals and grace)

Henri knew the vulnerability of the “old man” in him. At the end of eight years of interior simplicity during his service in the novitiate, he saw in this trial “a minimum to subdue in me what is in the old man” and he added: “On the other hand, it was a providential time on all levels. God be praised for this time in the desert! »

He knew he was vulnerable to death. His friend Bélaïd testifies: “On March 25, 1994, I met Henri Vergès for the last time. I was alone with him in his office in Algiers. I told him: “Mr. Vergès, you are in a red-light district; you are under constant threat; Are you aware that death is watching you day and night? He stopped his work, because he was covering a book, and he said to me: “Listen, my choice was made in 1948. I offered my life to God. My destiny is in the hands of the Almighty.” He was sincere and he concluded with a slight smile, “Believe me, I am not thinking about my safety”. When I left him, I was worried for his life and I didn’t know that this was a farewell visit”.

Christian de Chergé, in a homily on July 17, 1994, presents the death of Brother Henri and Sister Paul-Hélène in the following way: “Those who claimed responsibility for their murder could not appropriate their death. It belonged to an Other, like everything else, and for a long time. “It’s part of the contract,” laughed Henri, “and it will be whenever He wants. It’s not going to stop us from living, all the same!”

F. Henri in a Muslim environment

At Christmas 1989, Henri described his Algerian journey for a Spanish magazine on the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Marcellin Champagnat. He ends as follows: “In summary, it is my Marist commitment that has allowed me, despite my limitations, to insert myself harmoniously into the Muslim milieu, and my life in this milieu, in turn, has made me more deeply  a Marist Christian. God be praised! ».

Henri’s heart “offered hold” to his students and their families, to the people of the neighbourhood, to the Algerian people whose nationality he had asked for. Christian de Chergé, in the homily already quoted, writes: “Henri was also looking towards Islam which never ceased to allow itself to be questioned, from within a quest for God always on the alert. “I allow myself to be questioned, and I question, I destabilize the other a little, and the other destabilizes me… It is like Mary, I do not understand, but I look out. What the little ones have grasped, it’s wonderful. The scientists are blocking my business.”

Bishop Henri Teissier, in his preface to Robert Masson’s book: “Henri Vergès, a Christian in the house of Islam”, notes: “His life as a Marist religious and educator became a life in Muslim Algeria, for the Algerians and with the Algerians. The rise of danger, of which he was well aware, did not change this fundamental orientation, but added to it a desire for spiritual solidarity with Islam and the Muslims whose Ribat would help him to bring out all the meaning. His friendships, especially with Brother Christian, the monks and other members of the Ribat, deepened this call in him.

Henri, whose heart remained wounded at the sight of the poverty of his pupils, tried, he wrote, “to better grasp the humble means offered to me day by day in the reality of the things offered to me so that these young people may feel through me a Presence that loves them and calls them by the best of themselves”.

Witness to the love of Christ

On the occasion of the centenary of the arrival of the Marist Brothers in Algeria (1891-1991), he ended his presentation as follows: “We give thanks, with the Virgin Mary, in a trusting availability, at the heart of a Church whose humble condition of servant in Love we fraternally espouse”.

At the end of the funeral Mass on May 12, 1994, at Notre-Dame d’Afrique, Cardinal Duval addressed these few words from the heart to the congregation, where there were many Muslims: “Dear Brother Henri and the admirable Sister Paul-Hélène, were authentic witnesses to the love of Christ, of the absolute disinterestedness of the Church and of fidelity to the Algerian people.

The first two of the 19 martyrs beatified in Oran, on 8 December 2018, rest in the cemetery of El Harrach, near Algiers.

Brother Alain Delorme

See here other resources on Brother Henri Vergès.


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