The seven Trappist monks of Atlas
On May 21, 1996 the Armed Islamic Group, an Algerian extremist organization, released a statement announcing the execution of the seven Trappist monks who had been kidnapped two months earlier from the monastery of Notre-Dame de l'Atlas. Their death was the conclusion of an itinerary of witness to the Gospel so radical that it had revealed the presence of the Emmanuel, God with us, in the midst of growing hatred and hostility. The story of the monks of Atlas had begun in 1938, when several of them had settled in the region of Tibhirine to give witness to the universal fellowship sought by Christians, in silence, prayer and discreet friendship with their Muslim neighbors.
In the 1960s the community found itself on the verge of closure, but the direct intervention of several French monasteries, together with the guidance of a new prior, Brother Christian de Chergé, led to a dramatic spiritual renewal. Brother Christian left the monks who would follow him with writings steeped in the Gospel, in which readers glimpse the makrothymia, or universal compassion, of a man whose resemblance to his Master was such that he had come to see others, and even the enemy, through God's eyes.
At his side, brothers Bruno, Célestin, Christophe, Luc, Michel and Paul shared every joy and grief, every distress and hope until the day of their death. Together they gave their life without reserve to God and to their Algerian brothers and sisters.
Despite the threats they received, they decided together to remain in Algeria, where they had long been engaging in dialogue and spiritual exchange with the Muslims of their region.
These monks' violent death, which reminded Western Christians of the possibility of martyrdom that exists in every truly Christian life, has communicated to every person capable of listening the conviction that only those who have a reason for which they are willing to die also have a reason to live.
And from a fellow Trappist, a meditation on the relationship between martyrdom of the monks of Tibhirine and the hope of forgiveness:
The martyr who offers his life while forgiving, accuses no one. A group of extremists does not represent a people: nothing would be more absurd than to accuse the Algerian people or the Muslim world for what happened. Neither must we accuse the physical authors of the drama. We must be confident that a word of pardon will dissipate all evil and ignorance, letting light shine within ourselves and finding spaces of liberty for the transformation of our existence. All human beings are worthy of being loved.
(The picture above is of the Tibhirine memorial in the Cistercian monastery of Aiguebelle in northern Provence because Brother Christian, prior of Tibhirine and martyr, began his monastic life there.)