2018-12-24 ALGERIA

Henri Vergès new Blessed Marist Brother

Here you can find a description of the events during the Beatification of Br. Henri Vergès, together with other 18 martyrs from Algeria, religious, men and women, held on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 2018) in the Shrine of Holy Cross, Oran (Algeria). The texts are from Br. Antonio Estaún, General Postulator.


The Marist Delegation was integrated by a group of relatives and friends of Brother Henri Vergès, headed by Pierre (brother) and Marie (Sister), Samuel (nephew), Régine (niece), Jocelyn (niece) and Florian (grandnephew), as well as by a significant group of Brothers from France and Rome, headed by Brother Ernesto Sánchez Barba, Superior General, Father Ferré Jodra, Provincial from l’Hermitage and Brother Antonio Martinez Estaún, General Postulator.  This Delegation shared the acts of the program of the Beatification together with the Brothers from the Marist communities of Oran and Mostaganem.  

The arrival to Algeria confirmed the previous intuitions, which emerged during the procedure followed, to obtain the Visa to enter the country.  Approximately, five-hundred foreigners were expected to participate in the acts, presided over by the Delegate of the Pope. As foresight of this encounter, a whole operational act of control and accompaniment was put in place so that our stay in the Algerian territory developed under parameters of high security, which even if it occasioned some trouble or discomfort was a guarantee for the happy success of the visit.  

The previous climate, ecclesial and social, was obtained by means of a reflection on faith, the coherence of life and the fidelity to history.  With this reference, it was possible to deduce the sense to be given to the acts of violence, which were the cause of the death of the 19 blessed martyrs.  It is not a question of Christians murdered by Muslims, but of Christians murdered with Muslims.  (Jean-Paul Vesco, Bishop of Oran).  From this the will of the Catholic Church that the Beatification take place in Algeria.  “We do not want a beatification of Christians among Christians, since those brothers and sisters died together with thousands of tens of Algerian Muslims who died during the decade of the civil war (1992-2002)”.  Paul Dsfarges, Archbishop of Algiers.       


 Friday, December 7

The program said that on Friday, December 7, 2018, at 20 hours, in the Cathedral of Holy Mary (Center Pierre Claverie), there would be a prayer vigil.  In fact, in the evening in the Cathedral of Oran, next to the tomb of Pierre Claverie, an inter-religious prayer vigil, of hymns and witnesses, allowed the participants, especially for those from France, Belgium or Spain, to submerge themselves in the reality of the Algerian Church. The vigil was organized in the image of the religious men and women who chose to give their life for Christ in this country under the sign of “the friendship which comes from God”.  The Parish choir interpreted Sufi melodies mixed with the rhythmic and repetitive chant of Taizé. Nineteen names, that of each one of the new Blessed, printed each one on a ceramic lamp made present before the Assembly their surrendered life.  In addition, twelve “heirs” of the Blessed shared with the Assembly the force and reality of their message.  

After manifesting gratitude to the Algerian authorities, who understood and accepted the desire of the Church to celebrate this Beatification “in Algeria and with the Algerian people”, the Bishop of Oran, Monsignor Vesco launched this vibrant challenge for the future: “The 21 century cannot be that of confrontation among religions”, and he implored Heaven, recalling that “our common house is threatened because of climatic warming while the Mediterranean swallows every day men and women who seek a better future”.     


 December 8

For Saturday, December 8, 2018, two important moments were foreseen on the program.   In the middle of the morning, an encounter of the Authorities and the relatives of the new Blessed with the Muslim Religious authorities in the mosque and the ceremony of beatification of the new Blessed.  

The encounter in the Mosque in the presence of the Muslim dignitaries of the city, both political and religious, developed in an environment of fraternity and tolerance.  This encounter in the Great Mosque Ibn Badis wanted to express pardon and reconciliation of the Algerian people with the relatives of the Blessed in the presence of Cardinal Becciu and of the Algerian minister of Religious Affairs.  “We, Muslims associate ourselves with great joy to this event”, the Imam Mostapha Jaber said in the Great Mosque.  Father Thierry Becker, collaborator of Blessed Pierre Claverie, reminded that the beatification of these Servants of God “shows that sharing life with members of another religion is Christian”.   

The beginning of the Beatification Mass was foreseen for 13 hours, presided over by Cardinal Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, in the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Cross.  The transfer of the authorities and relatives from the center of the city to the Shrine, situated on the side of a mountain on the outskirts of the city in a place that dominates the port and part of the city of Oran obliged the delay of the beginning of the act. 

The Beatification ceremony was celebrated in the Shrine of the Holy Cross.  The election of this place was a thought election for a modest celebration in the measure of the Algerian Church in order that it would be in harmony with the vocation of this Church of which the new Blessed are a beautiful Icon. 

The first part of the encounter was dedicated to the ceremony of the Beatification.  After the greeting to those present there was the reading of the message of the Pope. The Postulator of the Cause proclaimed the name of each one of the Servants of God together with a brief biography of each one and asked the Papal Delegate to proclaim them Blessed.  Cardinal Becciu read in Latin the Decree of Beatification while a large banner opened out with the name and the image of the 19 new Blessed while the choir interpreted the Alleluia of Hendel.  

Following this, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Becciu, gave to the General Superiors the Apostolic Letter in which they were notified that the member or members of their Institute had been officially proclaimed Blessed, and that the liturgical feast of the martyrs of Algeria will be celebrated in the universal liturgical calendar on May 8, every year. 

The act was concluded with the celebration of the Holy Mass presided over by Cardinal Becciu, a numerous group of Bishops, the Algerian authorities, a good number of Imams with their white vestments.  The members of the Assembly wore their best attire, with a great variety of dresses, hairstyles, gestures and songs, which adorned a multicultural multiethnic and inter-religious feast.   This multi-culturality was manifested with readings of the Word, in French, Spanish and Arabic.  The procession of the offerings integrated the dance and singing with the offering of typical fruits of the region carried by 12 girls.  The Mass was animated by the joyful hymns of the choir of the Sub Saharan students caressed by a warm sun under a sky without clouds.  The emotion raised in tone, at the moment of peace, when the Imams embraced the Catholic Bishops.  At that moment and that was not the only one, the applauses of the Assembly broke out together with the “youyous” of approbation.      

For the numerous Algerians present, among who, we mention journalists and security forces; the participation in the Catholic Mass was a primacy, and above all, a joy visible on the faces. 

Once the Mass concluded we were able to enjoy a sober cold drink offered by the organization and prepared the day before in the house of the Brothers by the pupils of Brother César Egido, who study Spanish under his direction


 December 9

Sunday, December 9, travel from Oran to Algiers in buses offered, free of charge, by the Algerian Government, to visit the cemetery of Belfort, where the tombs of Brother Henri Vergès and of Sisters Angèle-Marie Littlejohn and Bibiane Leclerc (Our Lady of the Apostles); Odette Prévost (Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Charles de Foucaul); and Paul-Hélène Saint Raymond (Little Sisters of the Assumption) are found.  The tombs of the new Blessed have not been touched.  We found them decorated with white paint with one only ornament, a palm on the tomb. 

In the visit to the cemetery moments of intense emotion were lived.  A great group of neighbors of the neighborhood discreetly accompanied moments of prayer and of a profound experience lived there.  Monsignor Teissier, emeritus of Algiers, who was protagonist during the times of the persecution as responsible for the Church of Algiers, directed the prayer invoking the new Blessed and gave a touching witness of his experience.  The words of Sister Odette Prévost, transformed into song offered a message of life: “Live this day that God gives you today; it is yours, live it in Him. The tomorrow belongs to God; it does not belong to you. Do not place on tomorrow the concerns of today.  The tomorrow belongs to God, place it in His hands”.    

The thanksgiving Mass for the Beatification was celebrated in the Shrine of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers.  It was presided over by the Bishop of Perpignan, Norbert José Henri Turini.  It was a moment of encounter and communion with the faithful of the Parish, but above all with the members of the Delegations of religious and relatives of the Blessed martyrs buried in the cemetery of Belfort of Algiers.  There the Brothers had the opportunity to share, especially with the Little Sisters of the Assumption, companions of Paul-Hélène Saint Raymond who died close to Brother Henri in the Casbah.   

In the Shrine, recently remodeled interiorly, a ceramic mural or wall will be placed in the side Chapel at the right of the transept with the name of the 19 martyrs of Algeria. 


Repercussions of the event 

The ceremony of Beatification of Pierre Claverie and of his 18 martyr companions celebrated in Oran, on December 8, 2018, has been an event followed closely by the Algerian and foreign means of communication, particularly through the solicitude for accreditation of about sixty foreign journalists.  The central act re-transmitted in direct by the Channel Algeria DZ in connection with the French KTO was diffused in digital format by numerous specialized places.  

The first thing to point out is the unanimity of all the means of communication in highlighting the primacy of the event.  It is the first time that the Catholic Church celebrates a Beatification in a Muslim country.  The city of Oran in Algeria has the honor of having received this primacy on December 8, 2018, in the Chapel Our Lady of Holy Cross. 

In the second place, the means have insisted that the Beatification of these 19 Blessed, 15 French, two Spanish, a Belgian and a Maltese, belonging to eight different Catholic  Congregations, has been a sign of  “reconciliation and fraternity” through the “witness of a life and a death together”. According to the Bishop Paul Desfarges “we did not want a Beatification among Christians, because these brothers and sisters died in the midst of dozens and thousands of Algerians”, Muslims who died during the decade of 1992-2002.  The Beatification this Saturday in Oran of the 19 Catholic religious, who died in Algeria during the black decade, is “ a great sign of brotherhood of Algeria in the whole world”, Pope Francis said in his message.   

The return to Rome after having participated in the feast of the Beatification of Pierre Claverie and 18 martyr companions, I have become conscious, aware of the Church of communion, which is lived in Algeria.  The celebration of the Beatification has brought together a good group of Christian believers around a small community of Catholics to unite themselves to the feast.  They are very few members and live as a minority in the midst of a Muslim country, but with a very clear conscious and a well-defined option of what it means to be witness of Jesus.  Faith unites them and faith creates community.  They are conscious that their great option is the presence and living together in peace.  The rest is the work of God. 

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