(Vatican Radio) “If I were one day to become a victim of terrorism, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was given to God and Algeria.” This is the spiritual testament of Fr Christian de Chergé one of the 7 Trappist monks kidnapped from his monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria 20 years ago this weekend. The monks were kidnapped by a terrorist organization called the Armed Islamic Group and beheaded after being held for 2 months. Only their heads were found.
It was subsequently discovered that the Algerian government may have killed the monks and decapitated them in order to implicate the Armed Islamic Group. Whatever the case, the martyred monks leave a spiritual legacy focused on forgiveness and brotherhood between all people.
Fr Eamon Fitzgerald is the Abbot General of the Trappists and was asked to reflect on the call to live in community. “It is the witness of a community united together,” he said, “prepared to live their lives at the risk of losing them.”
The monks in Tibherine knew they were in a dangerous situation, surrounded by hostile Islamic forces.
With the choice to flee or remain and continue to live the gospel in community, the monks chose to stay and live their calling from God. On the night of 26th of March, 1996 the Armed Islamic Group stormed their monastery and seized 7 of the monks. They were later murdered by decapitation.
In the 20 years since, such terrorist attacks from the so-called Islamic State are still occurring almost daily. We ask Fr Eamon what does the monks’ martyrdom teach us? Is this a clash of civilizations?
The community model of the Trappists may give a key to reaching the hearts of hostile neighbours: the unassuming virtues of patience, poverty, presence, prayer and forgiveness. These pillars, says Fr Eamon, are fundamental for overcoming the challenges of very different people – even enemies – living together.