Mixed reaction to Pope Francis’ recognition of their martyrdom


The Holy See announced on Saturday 27 Jan that Pope Francis has approved the recognition of martyrdom of Bishop Pierre Claverie and 18 other religions, including the monks of Tibirhine. These martyrs died in Algeria between 1994 and 1996, during the Civil War. This recognition is important because it opens the way for their beatification.

The Vatican issued decrees recognizing the violent deaths of a total of 19 Catholics as martyrs between 1993 and 1996 during the Algerian civil war. Among these 19 Catholics are the seven Trappist monks from the Monastery of Tibhirine and also the Old Bishop of Oran, Pierre Claverie. The date for their beatification has not yet been announced.

“Each of them died because they had decided to persevere with their neighbours despite the war,” the bishops of Algeria wrote in a statement. They added: “Their death proves that even their life had been at the service of others – in the service of the poor, those in trouble, the disabled, young people, the Muslims. They were victims of a murderous ideology, a distortion of Islam that did not tolerate people of other nationalities and other faiths.”

There was a mixed reaction to the news among Catholics in Algeria. Although they expressed great joy at the imminent beatification of their witnesses, some are also uncomfortable. They question whether it is good to highlight only the murdered when many more Catholics – usually religious with a French passport – stayed despite the civil war in Algeria. Algerian bishops spoke to the Pope about this discomfort last autumn. They stated that the wounds were “not yet healed”.

“The question is this: how can one recognize a discrete presence (of church people) without putting an end to this discretion?” Bishop Jean-Paul Vesco said a few days ago in an interview with an Algerian newspaper. He added: “It would be very bad news if this beatification was seen as if Catholics wanted to promote themselves at the expense of the Algerians, the Muslims. That’s exactly the opposite of what we want. “

The Algerian bishops repeatedly emphasised that this is “not a story of Muslims who killed Christians, but of a whole people who had been taken hostage by terrorists”. One could and should not overlook the fact that 200,000 Algerians – imams, writers, journalists, teachers, doctors – “also gave their lives for their faith and loyalty to their conscience during the civil war.” Almost a hundred imams were killed by terrorists because they refused to justify violence.

The future Blessed are, as the Algerian bishops emphasise, “no heroes” but simply “members of a small Catholic community that did not want to leave Algeria at the moment of a serious trial”. This is about the “daily miracle of friendship and brotherhood”.

Both Pope Benedict XVI and Francis have repeatedly campaigned for the beatification of the martyrs of Algeria. The cause began in 2007 with its diocesan phase; In 2013, the files – totalling about 7,000 pages – were sent to Rome.

Saturday’s decree is a confirmation of what Pope John Paul II proclaimed soon after Claverie’s murder: “His martyrdom must become the seed of love and the reason for hope. In the face of violence that respects no one and nothing, Algeria more than ever needs peacemakers and brotherhood… May God move the Christians and Muslims there to gather together and imitate the witness of Bishop Claverie.” In a telegram he had sent two days earlier, on 2 Aug  1996, to the bishops of Algeria, he wrote: “For the Church in Algeria, once more cruelly attacked, a new page is added to the martyrology.”

ACN Malta