Monday, January 5, 2009

Seven Cistercian Monk Martyred in Algeria 1996

During the night of March 27-28, 1996, seven monks of the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas, near the village of Tibhirine in Algeria, were abducted by Islamic fundamentalists. Their abduction was claimed by a radical faction of the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) in a communiqué dated April 18, 1996 and published on April 27. In a second communiqué, dated May 23, the GIA announced that the monks had been executed on May 21, 1996. Their remains were identified and their funeral Mass was celebrated in the Catholic Cathedral of Algiers on Sunday, June 2. They were buried in the cemetery of their monastery at Tibhirine on June 4, 1996.

The surviving members of the Atlas community have been helped by volunteers from several other Trappist monasteries in different parts of the world. Their community is now established near Midelt in Morocco.

The seven Brothers taken as hostages and then assassinated were all of French nationality. It has been decided that any future process for their official beatification will be undertaken in union with the other Christian martyrs of Algeria.

Our Brothers had received their monastic formation in different French monasteries -- Bellefontaine, Aiguebelle and Tamié, -- as the following brief biographies show:
Dom Christian de Chergé

Born on January 18, 1937, at Colmar (Haut-Rhin), he entered the monastery of Atlas on August 20, 1969, when already a priest (ordination: March 21, 1964). He made his noviciate at Aiguebelle, and his solemn profession at Atlas on October 1, 1976. He was the elected Titular Prior of Atlas since 1984. He had studied in Rome from 1972 to 1974 and was deeply involved in interreligious dialogue. His Testament, written over a year before his death but only discovered afterwards, has already become a classic of modern religious literature. For a more in-depth biographical study, see Monk, Martyr and Mystic by Dom Bernardo Olivera.
Brother Luc Dochier

Born on January 31, 1914, at Bourg-le-Péage (Drome), he entered the monastery of Aiguebelle on December 7, 1941, and was the oldest member of the group. He went to Atlas in 1946, and made solemn profession there on August 15, 1949, thus spending more than 50 years in Algeria. He was a Doctor of Medicine before entering the monastery and was asked by his superiors at Tibhirine to establish a small clinic there for the sake of their neighbors. For this reason he was very well known in the whole region.
Father Christophe Lebreton

Born on October 11, 1950, at Blois (Loire et Cher), he entered the monastery of Tamié on November 1, 1974, and made solemn profession there on November 1, 1980. He went to Atlas in 1987 and was ordained priest on January 1, 1990. He was Father Master of novices and Subprior (second superior). He also is one of the first members of the generation of 1968 to give his life for the faith. A selection of his many poems and the final part of his Diary have been published posthumously.
Brother Michel Fleury

Born on May 21, 1944, at Ste Anne (Loire Atlantique), he entered the monastery of Bellefontaine on November 4, 1980. He went to Atlas in 1984 and made solemn profession there on August 28, 1986. He was community cook and gardener, noted for his simplicity and spirit of prayer.
Father Bruno Lemarchand

Born on March 1, 1930, at St Maixent (Deux-Sèvres), he entered the monastery of Bellefontaine on March 1, 1981, having been a priest since April 2, 1956. He went to Atlas in 1989 and made solemn profession there on March 21, 1990. Although Superior since 1992 of Atlas' annex house in Morocco, he was at Atlas at the time of the abduction, having gone there for the election of the Prior of Atlas, which was to have taken place on March 31, 1996.
Father Célestin Ringeard

Born on July 27, 1933, at Touvois (Loire Atlantique), he entered the monastery of Bellefontaine on July 19, 1983. He had been a priest since December 17, 1960, dedicating himself in a special way to the street apostolate. He went to Atlas in 1987 and made solemn profession there on May 1, 1989. He was the community's enthusiastic cantor.
Brother Paul Favre-Miville

Born on April 17, 1939, at Vinzier (Haute-Savoie), he worked as a plumber before entering the monastery of Tamié on August 20, 1984. He went to Atlas in 1989 and made solemn profession there on August 20, 1991. He was gifted and competent in every type of manual work.

Memorial of the Brothers of Tibhirine (Monastery of Esmeraldas - Equatory) Photo by brother Eric
(presentation of this icon - french text)


Holy Father John Paul II

Dearest Brothers and Sisters,

With a keen sense of participation, I unite with you as you gather around the altar to celebrate, in the sacrifice of Christ, the memory of your seven confreres of the monastery of Our Lady of Atlas, at Tibhirine, in Algeria, who were killed in a barbaric manner last May. With this message I wish to express my spiritual nearness to you and my solidarity, along with a special remembrance in my prayers. "If the grain of wheat falling to the ground does not die, it remains alone; if instead it dies, it produces much fruit. He who loves his life will lose it, while he who hates his life in this world, will keep it for eternal life. If someone wishes to serve me let him follow me, and where I am there also will my servant be. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him." (John 12:24-26)

How pertinent are these words of the Gospel! How appropriate they sound, as we think of your seven confreres and of your present Capitular meetings, which are taking place in the light of their witness! The Lord alone can comfort his children in such dramatic trials. Faith in Christ, crucified and risen, tears aware the veil of suffering and makes us understand the mysterious fecundity of the death of believers, whose life is not taken away but transformed. I am certain that the sacrifice of the monks of Tibhirine has not failed to provide special inspiration for your Capitular labors, enabling each of your to meet with full openness of Spirit the two great challenges which face you: that of a renewed fidelity to the radical following of Christ, and that of communion within the great Cistercian Family. Be certain of this: the blood of martyrs is in the Church a force for renewal and of unity.

"At the end of the second millennium, the Church has become once again a Church of martyrs." (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 37) The witness of the Trappists of Our Lady of Atlas takes its place alongside that of the Bishop of Oran, His Excellency Pierre Lucien Caverie, and of not a few other sons and daughters on the African continent who, during this period, have given their lives for the Lord and for their brothers and sisters, beginning with those who persecuted and killed them. Their witness is the victory of the Cross, the victory of the merciful love of God, who saves the world. The testament which Dom Christian de Chergé left behind, offered to all the key for understanding the tragic occurrence in which he and his confreres were involved, the final meaning of which is the gift of life in Christ. "My life," he wrote, "was given to God and to this country."

Venerable brothers and sisters, you are the custodians of this memory, guardians in prayer, in common discernment, and in the concrete directives which you decide upon, so that the memory of this event be fruitful in the future for Trappists and for the whole Church. In this rich promise of hope, we invoke the abundance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on each of you and on the works of your respective Chapters, and we impart to you with all our heart the Apostolic Benediction.

From the "A. Gemelli" hospital, October 10, 1996

John Paul II

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