by Jean-Pierre Schumacher
During the night of March 26, 1996, seven of the nine monks present at the monastery of Tibhirine, were kidnapped in circumstances that have never been clarified. The seven monks were murdered, probably on May 21, 1996. The precise happenings of the fifty-six days of their detention and the details of their death are still shrouded in mystery. Their choice to remain in Algeria, despite an increasing atmosphere of terror, had matured in them together after the intimidating visit of an armed group, on Christmas Eve, 1993. This free decision to stay expressed their will to remain together, as they shared with their neighbors the dangers of the violence which was aimed especially at the most destitute. It also expressed their solidarity with the small ecclesial community and the gift of themselves to God and to Algeria.
Dom Christian de Cherge, Prior of Tibhirine
Dom Christian de Cherge, the Prior of the monastery, was the leader of a spiritual journey which brought the community to accept with lucidity the possibility of martyrdom.
Christian had been marked for life by his experience of a friendship with a village policeman during his eighteen months of military service when Algeria was fighting for its independence, and by the tragic death of his friend who put himself in danger to defend Christian. Christian had come to Tibhirine as a place where he could live the blood bond he had contracted with this man, with his people and his country. Right from the day of his entrance, he had to make a choice: the choice to combine this personal call with the call of the community, which had itself a mission of presence in the land of Islam.
His hope, for the end of the journey, was not "conversion" in the usual meaning, that a Muslim would become a Christian or a Christian would become a Muslim, but that many would become aware of God's plan concerning the entire human family, that is, to make communion happen, God's communion, between all human beings.