On the December 8th, 19 Algerian church martyrs were beatified in the Santa Cruz sanctuary in Oran. Br. Jean Jacques Pérennès o.p., director of the École biblique and one who was close to Bishop Claverie, one of the martyrs, was there and gave us an account of what he saw during a conference given at the École biblique on December 13th.
For a good understanding of the challenge of the Church’s presence in Algeria, we started with a quick reminder of the history: French colonization of Algeria started in 1830 and lasted until 1962 (130 years), during which 1 million French Algerians more or less lived next to 9 million Muslim Algerians but never managed to live together. However, the Church stayed in Algeria until the war of independence, between 1954 and 1962. This troubled period, for French as well as for Algerians, was a turning point in Algerian church history, who chose, with Rome’s approval, to stay where she was.
After independence, the Church took part in the country’s development, but rising nationalism made her first tolerated and then threatened when Islamist parties arrived. This pressure led, in the 90s, to the death of 150,000 people, including 19 religious.
These 19 martyrs, very different from each other, all had in common the love of Christ, of Algeria, and its people, as well as the will to serve him and to live with Muslims in friendship and a non-proselytizing relationship.
You find among them 7 Trappists, 4 White Fathers and 1 Dominican bishop.
The celebration was just like our martyrs. It happened in Santa Cruz basilica, a very important one for the people of Oran. The focus was on the friendship between the Algerian church and her martyrs and Muslims. Algerian authorities were very engaged in this event, and the Muslim presence was represented by a Sufi choir during the prayer vigil and the presence during the mass of Algerian authorities and a delegation of imams.