PRAYING WITH THE MARTYRS OF TIBHIRINE
By Cliff Garvey
For many months, I was frustrated with the slow pace of recovery from a serious infection and three relatively minor surgical procedures. I tried long walks. I tried to pray it away. I tried to talk out my frustration with a good friend, a close colleague, and a spiritual director. I tried to work through it by putting in long hours at the computer, meeting with spiritual directees, and planning parish programs and events. Nothing worked.
During this same time, I read about the Martyrs of Tibhirine: the seven Trappist monks who were murdered by Algerian terrorists in 1996 and beatified by Pope Francis in 2018. For almost two hundred years, Trappist monks had lived and ministered to the largely Muslim population of rural Algeria. But the Monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas, near Tibhirine, was relatively new. It was founded in 1947 and took its name from a statue of the Blessed Mother that seemed to watch over and protect the village.
The monks who lived and worked there became important members of the local community. They provided food, clothing, household advice, medical care, and pastoral counseling to the villagers. They gave witness to the Christian faith, not by proselytizing, but by their good works and life example. They were truly loved and respected by the people. Unfortunately, the Algerian Civil War created a culture of violence, prejudice, and misunderstanding that ultimately led to the kidnapping and execution of seven of the nine resident monks.
Father Christian de Chergé was their abbot. He was a tall, thoughtful, and prayerful man. He was deeply committed to dialogue, peacemaking, and mutual understanding between peoples of all faiths, cultures, and traditions. Just reading about his life and ministry helped me feel closer to Jesus and to all who offer their time and talent as humble servants in the Lord’s vineyard.
As hatred and suspicion increased in Algeria, Father Christian and his brother monks refused to abandon their ministry and the people that they had grown to love. Even when it became clear that their lives were in danger, the monks rededicated themselves to Christ and to the people of Tibhirine. After Father Christian’s death, his writings were discovered and published all around the world. They reveal the heart and soul of a man who practiced what he preached. They reveal a man who was both a good Christian and a holy priest; a person who was willing to sacrifice everything — his hopes, his dreams, and ultimately his whole life — for the sake of God’s people.
As Franciscans in Spirit, members and friends of the Assisi Project routinely pray or sing the Prayer of Saint Francis. It begins with these familiar words: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love. It is difficult to become an instrument of peace and love when one’s heart is angry, anxious, and frustrated by life’s challenges. But after reading about the Martyrs of Tibhirine, I felt blessed by a special grace that renewed my faith, revived my spirits, and calmed my restless heart for the work that God has called me to do.
One book fell open to a passage that describes Father Christian’s five pillars of a peaceful life: prayer, patience, presence, poverty, and forgiveness. Prayer is about asking God to cleanse us from the dark spirits of discord, division, and rejection. Patience is about more than accepting all things without complaint. It is about perseverance. It is about faithfulness in the face of trial and tragedy.
Poverty refers to simplicity. It is not necessarily about possessions and material wealth. It is really about spiritual poverty. It is about our complete dependence on God. Father Christian explains that our lives belong to the Lord, not to our own plans, desires, or ambitions. He writes: “The future belongs to God, not to us.” Our job is to persevere in the one life that God has blessed us to live; and to recognize that we are dependent on our Creator for all that we are, for all that we have, and for all that we may become.
Presence means that God is truly alive in the hearts of all his children — even in those who may seem different, even in those we may dislike, and even in those with whom we may disagree. Father Christian writes: “Killing can take different forms, as all who live in a community already know. A contemptuous attitude, a wounding word, and gossip that assassinates are other ways to kill.” So we are called to love, honor, respect, welcome, and encourage all people whether we like them or not. Forgiveness is the final pillar of the peaceful life. It beckons us to pardon, show mercy, and turn the other cheek. Each time that we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we beg God to forgive us and we ask for the grace to forgive others.
Prayer. Patience. Presence. Poverty. Forgiveness. According to Father Christian de Chergé, these are the five pillars of a peaceful and peace-filled life. At Pentecost and always, as we pray for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we also pray for calm and patient hearts. We pray for the grace to be patient, prayerful, simple, and fully present to all those we are called to love. We pray to become instruments of God’s peace, love, and mercy in our suffering and unforgiving world. We pray for the intercession of the Martyrs of Tibhirine who sacrificed everything to live the Gospel of Jesus.
Finally, we pray with the words of Father Christian de Chergé: “We have an urgent need to enter into mutual mercy…The world would be less deserted if we could recognize in each other a common calling, that of multiplying in passing the fountains of mercy.” Thank you, Father Christian, Thanks, too, to your brother monks. Your good example helps us to transcend our failures and frustrations. Your good works teach us to rise above what ails us and to reach out in love and mercy to God and our neighbors in need.
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Holy Martyrs of Tibhirine, pray for us! Our Lady of the Atlas, pray for us! Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Five Pillars – Praying with the Martyrs of Tibhirine. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. Copyright 2022. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Art Credit: Photo 58071153 | Bancillon Nicolas | Dreamstime.com
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal (see link below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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