2016-05-06 GENERAL HOUSE

Martyr in Algiers

On the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of the death of Brother Henri Vergès, in Algiers, on May 8, 1994, we present a few lines which will help the reader to continue to remember this Brother who 25 years ago dedicated his life to the service of the Algerian young people. 

They are words taken from a report of 12 pages written by Father François-Marie Lethel, Discalced Carmelite, Theologian, asked by Brother Giovanni Bigotto, who at that time was our Brother Postulator of the Cause of Beatification of the 19 martyrs of Algeria.  The complete text may be read in the annex (Word – Rapport du théologien censeur – P. François-Marie Léthel ocd – sur les Ecrits des Serviteurs et Servantes de Dieu présumés martyrs d'Algérie (1994-1996)). 

It is worthwhile to point out that more than 7 pages, of the 12 of the report, refer to our Brother Henri, and contain many extracts of his correspondence with Brother Basilio Rueda, the Superior General. 

“The writings of Brother Henri Vergès are mainly letters, retreat notes and notebooks of notes on readings and personal reflections of what he saw… All these texts allow us to enter into the depth of his soul and in this way continue his interior journey. In this, an exceptional man is discovered, notable because of his intelligence, his culture, his prudence and balance, but above all, for the depth of his interior life totally animated by faith, hope and charity, lived with a supreme intensity, in that level of “high tension” of the mystical life (Cf. St. John of the Cross), (p.4).  

In reading the whole of the writings of Brother Henri, one is impressed by the persistency of his walking toward sanctity, always lived with a profound sense of Church and of the Communion of the Saints.  The first texts go back to the Pontificate of Venerable Pius XII (Notebook A).  Then we see how he saw the great event of Vatican Council II, with the Pontificates of Blessed John XXIII and the Servant of God Paul VI, and afterwards, at the end of his life, the Pontificate of Blessed John Paul II.  From this point of view, Brother Henri is an important witness of the best “hermeneutics of continuity” that is evident in all the saints, and especially those who have lived before and after the Council. 

It could be said that his spirituality, like that of Blessed John Paul II, is essentially Christo-centric and Marian.    The Eucharist is the heart of his daily life; the Eucharist which is inseparably celebration, communion and adoration. Not being a priest, he will not always have the possibility to participate daily in the celebration, but he will always receive communion.  Little Brother of Mary, son of Saint Marcelin Champagnat, personally and profoundly he lives the Marian dimension of his vocation of Brother of the Schools.  Thus, he copies a text of his Founder in the Notebook: “an authentic Brother of Mary is not satisfied with loving and serving this august Virgen; but besides he tries to make her loved and served by all his pupils, and uses all the means that his zeal and piety suggest in order to instill in them a profound respect, trust without limit and filial love toward that Divine Mother. Devotion to Mary needs to be diffused, and it is a proof of a lack of that devotion not to try to communicate it, and that there is very little zeal to extend it and propagate the cult to the Blessed Virgin”.  

In his writings and especially in his Notebooks, we discover a profound spiritual life that is never separated from intellectual life.  And this because this brother, who is an educator is an intellectual at University level, a Bachelor of Arts.  In his very important and confidential Letter to the Superior General  of 1978, which is like a brief autobiography (in response to the circular letter “Fidelity”), he wrote: “I have been able to finish my studies in Philosophy and have my Bachelor of Arts degree, guided by an incomparable teacher, Aimé Forest, the philosopher of the “consent”.  This word has an echo in me: “fidelity” no matter what happens, and whatever the cost may be”.  

Aimé Forest is a good example of the Christian Philosopher.  His more characteristic book is precisely of the consent to being.  His influence on Brother Henri was surely very profound because this authentic philosophical content is continually present in his Notebooks.   In the Black Notebook, he quotes Forest (n. 247), Bergson (n. 257) and especially Jean Guitton (n. 250) and Jacques Maritain (n. 190 ff)  who were very close to Paul VI. The more frequent and numerous quotes and the more characteristic ones are texts of Paul VI.  This is very important, because it is a sign of the great love for the Church which animates the life of Brother Henri, the depth of his faith and of his intelligence and the honesty of his thought.  One is surprised by the interior communion between this holy Marist Saint and this great Holy Father who, after having led the Council to its end had to fulfill his mission of governing the Church during the most difficult years of the Post-conciliar crisis (1968-1978).  

Brother Henri quotes in a particular way the words of Paul VI to the religious through which he indicates the path of the authentic renewal desired by the Council, asking them to be attentive, warning them against the ideologies of contestation and rupture. 

He also keeps the teaching of Paul VI on Christian joy: “Joy is the characteristic and essential note of Christian life, the state of grace, as you well know.  A Christian may lose everything, but if he is united to God in faith and charity, he cannot lose joy, (Paul VI, 19, V. 65: n. 141).  His profound Marian spirituality is connected with that of the Pope: “If we are Christians, we have to be Marian, that is to say, that we have to recognize the essential, vital, providential relationship that unites Mary with Jesus and who opens for us the path that leads to Him, Paul VI, (n. 376)”.    

I hope that these quotations arouse in the reader, the desire to discover other pages presented in the annex and which reveal the rich personality of Brother Henri, as religious educator. 

Brother Alain Delorme, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux

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