No 16 May 1996.3
We have cut the throats of seven monks, said the communiqué from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the most radical of the Algerian Islamist groups. The seven French Trappist monks had been kidnapped in March near Medea in Algeria. The GIA wanted to arrange an exchange of prisoners with France, or the monks would pay the price. The French President refused to take part in any negotiations with the terrorist group, turning the monks into hostages. Their death was an act of reprisal.
The assassination of the monks has met with shock, indignation and condemnation from around the world. A statement from the Quai d'Orsay paid tribute to the monks: The seven religious chose to live out their faith in Algeria and devote their lives to prayer. They merit all our respect. The seven had decided to live in North Africa as a symbol of hope for future understanding between Christians and Muslims. Their names: Paul Dorchier, a doctor; Father Prior Christian-Marie de Chergé and Brothers Christophe Le Breton, Paul Fabre Miville, Michel Fleury, Célestin Ringeard, and Father Bruno, a monk from Fes, Morocco. They did not choose to die, but they did choose to stay, to be with these people and in this land, as willing signs of the love that comes from God, said Archbishop Lustiger of Paris. They were men of God, men of prayer, men of peace. They are now among the 18 religious assassinated since 1993.
What can be said after such a massacre? What can be written in response to such violence?
One of the greatest riches of this world should be the human and spiritual balance that a good part of humanity has managed to reach. So many centuries of evolution since the Big Bang. In general, the world prides itself on its spiritual achievements. Can it be that some groups are totally devoid of such achievements? Or is this just the exception to the rule?
What a state of spiritual poverty they are in!
When we talk about human wealth, we refer to the intelligence of the world's people, the creativity of their elite, the generosity of their leaders and the holiness of their spiritual guides. One of the fairest flowers of this human wealth is unconditional love. It involves being open to the Other, giving of one's faith, of one's hope, of one's very self. It involves a constant awareness of the inner self in order to maintain the fragile balance between the passion for having and the passion for being, between the desire to serve and the desire to have power, between intolerance, the fruit of ignorance, and acceptance of the Other, the fruit of wisdom.
They were seven men who spent their lives showing unconditional love. Seven men who wanted to share their spiritual journey with their brothers and sisters in humanity. Seven men who believed that spiritual wealth would do more for the advancement of the Algerian people than silver and gold. In the shelter of their monastery, they believed that this part of their humanity, turned toward the sacred, could save the world. They did not go to Africa as conquerors. They did not go seeking to proselytize and convert their Muslim brothers. All they wanted was acceptance in order to share in the common journey of humankind. They had the profound conviction that drawing closer to the One, whether known as God or Allah, would bring peace. They bore witness to this, mysteriously incarnated in African culture.
Most of the population was aware of their presence. People knew that the monks respected their traditions and beliefs. They were men of God, seeking a higher good, whose vocation was to bring people closer together. That was how they were perceived and accepted by most Algerians. They were fools for God who had chosen to live out their ideal far from home and family because they believed in universal brotherhood. They wanted to be witnesses of the light.
They were confronted with witnesses of the darkness. This group of Algerian fundamentalists, also believers, also deeply committed, nursed a desire for conquest. They were religious fanatics without a shred of compassion for the foreign infidel. They had a battle to fight for the purity of the Faith. For them, there could be no compromise: that would be a sign of weakness. As far as they were concerned, those who did not believe in Allah were enemies because they bore the seeds of false gods. Of course, this is just the official party line: the real issue is power. The spiritual war they are waging is an integral part of the Algerian conflict, which has raged on for two decades and has created its share of martyrs on both sides. Fundamentalists and police clash: peons sacrificed to diametrically opposed convictions. But the bodies of their countrymen were not enough for ambitious faction leaders: they needed some shocking deaths to fling in the world's face. An excellent way to get the world's attention.
And so, seven shocking deaths. It is better that one die for all, Caiaphas once said about Jesus. Yes, they were seven in search of the absolute. All they wanted to do was share their discovery of the sacred. They were sacrificed to the God of intolerance.
But strangely enough, for many believers, they have indeed accomplished what they set out to do: eliminate a little more of the world's spiritual poverty. They accepted their martyrdom in advance. They will remain a symbol of peace, in the same manner as the One they strove to follow.