The martyrs of Algeria

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Excerpt from Philip Yancey’s column, Christianity Today, November 2004.

A lieutenant in the French army, Christian de Chergé, assigned to Algeria during a violent uprising in 1959, found he could talk about God more freely among Muslims there than he could back in France, where such talk made people uncomfortable. As a Muslim policeman named Mohammed told him, “We never see French soldiers praying. You say you believe in God. How can you not pray if you believe in God?”

Later, as the lieutenant was walking with Mohammed, rebels surrounded them. Mohammed placed himself in front of the rifles aimed at Christian’s chest, insisting that the soldier was a godly man and a friend of Muslims. The rebels withdrew without harming the Frenchman, but the next day Mohammed was found with his throat slit.

Lt. De Chergé ultimately resigned his commission and joined a Trappist community in remote Algeria. The monks ministered to the sick, gave refuge to the poor, and spent most of their time in prayer, thus creating an oasis of Christian faith in a land mostly hostile to it.

Ultimately, the terrorists had their way. In 1996, seven monks, including de Chergé, were taken away, held hostage for two months, then beheaded. This brutal incident, however, became a tipping point in the war of Islamic radicals against Algeria’s government—-a war that had cost perhaps 100,000 lives—-by turning the majority of Algerians against the radicals. Mainstream Muslims called for an end to the violence. Today the monks are honored as martyrs throughout Algeria.

….“There are no final proofs for the existence of God,” Rabbi [Abraham] Heschel said in [a] 1966 speech; “There are only witnesses.”

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