Abbot Christian de Chergé on Islam and Terrorism

Abbot Christian de Chergé
Abbot Christian de Chergé

There is, right now, as I write this, an awful terrorist attack going on in Paris. Please stop whatever you’re doing and say a quick prayer for all of those involved, all of those injured, all the dead, and the families of everyone involved. Even if you’ve already prayed for them, even if you don’t normally pray, please.

In face of something so big, no response feels adequate. What can we say? I live in Rome, a city that – by the grace of God – has been spared terrorist attacks, despite the nation’s poor security, and the repeated threats against Rome, against St. Peter’s Basilica, and against the pope. I hope you’ll forgive the meandering tone of this post, but I’m reminded of a few things. The first is Revelation 1:20, which mentions that every local church has a guardian angel watching over it, and I’m thankful to God for setting His angels over us (and thankful to my guardian angel, and to Rome’s). The second, and related, is Psalm 127, we begins (vv.1-2):

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made Heaven and Earth” (Psalm 124:8), full stop. Does God allow evil to happen sometimes? Certainly. But St. Paul reminds us that “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). He continues (Rom. 8:35-39),

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And so we have nothing, ultimately, to worry about. Could our lives end tomorrow, even today? Of course. But we wake up every day knowing that. This should remind us both of the frailty of our bodies and the immortality of our souls… and the relative value of physical and spiritual life. Blaise Pascal, the French Catholic philosopher and mathematician, wrote in one of his Pensees of the curious paradox of man’s frailty and invincibility:

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.

All our dignity consists then in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavour then to think well; this is the principle of morality.

Of course, man isn’t just a “thinking reed,” but a praying one, which underscores St. Paul’s point in Romans 8.

Finally, (while we still don’t know for certain whether this was Islamic extremists, as it current seems) I’m reminded of a letter by the North African Abbot Christian de Chergé, the abbot made famous by the delightful film Of Gods and Men.  Abbot Christian was the Abbot of a small monastery of French Trappists living in Algeria, the Monastery Notre-Dame de l’Atlas of Tibhirine. As the situation in Algeria worsened, the monks realized that they would likely be martyred by Islamic extremists. Offered the chance to flee to France, they instead chose to stay with their monastery and with the community that they were serving, in order to be Christ to them. They served right up until the end, when they were indeed kidnapped and martyred.

Towards the end, Abbot Christian wrote a remarkable (even provocative) last testament, that serves as a beautiful witness to the grace of martyrdom. If at times he seems to strain the bounds of orthodoxy in rushing to the defense of the Muslims who would kill him, recall Our Lord’s pleading from the Cross in Luke 23:34. The letter leaves no question that Abbot Christian grasps the centrality of Christ, even as he hopes that Christ’s mercy will extend to not only himself but to the men who will kill him.

-The letter is worth reading in full:

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind of Islamism encourages. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims—finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these people must realize that my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.

For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything. In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and their families—the hundred-fold granted as was promised!

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this adieu* —to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.

*The French word for goodbye, adieu, literally means “to God.”

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us! Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, pray for us!

11 Comments

  1. This is an encouraging article. But it is also very difficult in light of the faith required for facing evil incarnate and still wish it happiness…seeing the face of Christ in it. That’s the commitment and holiness I believe most of us long to have.

    1. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

      No one was praying for those who were killed!
      Maybe they weren’t Roman Catholics, like your sister, Craig?

      1. Bobby, what a disgusting and unchristian thing to say to someone. I expect more from civilized human beings, and much more from self-proclaimed Christians.

        Craig, sorry you had to experience that. Is this the first time you’ve been the victim of anti-Catholicism? I’m so happy that your sister is okay. One of the French seminarians here in Rome lost two cousins in the attack.

        I.X.

        Joe

        1. A few non-Catholics enjoy the anonymity of the internet and invade Catholic sites to aggravate. There are a few options (not all inclusive) 1) block them 2) block comments which defeats the purpose 3)ignore them 4) respond “God Bless You.” I like item #4 the best. Winston Churchill said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” You must know the enemy. How else would you know to pray for them?

  2. muhammed was a mass-murdering, rapist pedophile. I will take up any challenge on those charges (there are more I could throw against him, but those are the big ones) against that vile excuse of a man with anyone.

    Sources for those charges can be found here: http://www.faithfreedom.org/challenge.htm

    his creation, islam, is 100% incompatible with modern civilization.

    Modern people today have no respect for islam. They have never read the quran, they don’t even know what the hadith or the sira (known as the “sunnah”) are. They don’t know islam. They don’t want to know! A bunch of gunmen run around shooting people while screaming “allahu akbar!” and your response is to superimpose the French flag on your facebook profile???!!?!?! Why not sit down, open up a copy of the quran and read it?? You don’t have to go to the lengths I’ve gone, and learn to read, write and speak Arabic, but if you don’t want to know why someone is trying to kill you, then you deserve to die.

    Taking what the imam at the local mosque says about islam seriously is like taking what the guy who last stepped inside a Church was his first Communion 30 years ago about Catholicism seriously.

    ISIS actually takes their religion seriously. They have done NOTHING that muhammed didn’t do himself or order be done first.

    What has happened in Paris is nothing new. It is the latest attack in a VERY old war. Jihad is relentless. It doesn’t stop. There is no “expiration date” for Jihad found in islam. What we saw in Paris is what has been happening for the last 1400 years. Nothing short of popping a nuke on mecca will solve this problem that humanity faces.

    And yes, sometime this century that is what is going to happen to mecca. If history is any guide: What the North did to the South in the 19th century, what America did to Germany and Japan in the 20th century, is what American will have to do to mecca (and a few other places) in the 21st century.

    1. THE JEWISH RABBI WHO CREATED ISLAM

      JEWISHENCYCLOPEDIA
      The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
      SCHWARZ, JOSEPH:
      Palestinian geographer; born at Flosz, Bavaria, Oct. 22, 1804; died at Jerusalem
      Feb. 5, 1865. When he was seventeen years old he graduated as teacher
      from the Königliches Schullehrerseminar of Colberg, after which he joined his brother Israel at the University of Würzburg, where for five years he devoted himself to the history and geography of the Holy Land, and published a map of Palestine (1829; republished at Vienna, 1831, and Triest, 1832). It was his ardent desire, however, to study in Palestine itself the physical history and geography of the Holy Land, where his knowledge of Talmudic sources and early Jewish writers would be of more service. Accordingly he decided to settle in Jerusalem, whither he went in 1833. Schwarz then began a series of journeys and explorations in various parts of Palestine, to which he devoted about fifteen years.
      The results of his investigations and researches into the history, geography, geology, fauna, and flora of that country have placed him in the front rank of Palestinian explorers and geographers. HE IS THE GREATEST JEWISH AUTHORITY ON PALESTINIAN MATTERS SINCE ESTORI FARHI (1282-1357), the author of “Kaftor wa-Feraḥ.”

      (Be sure to Google this article:
      HISTORY OF PALESTINE
      614-1096 C.E.
      From the Accession of the Mahomedans to that of the Europeans.

      By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

      Rabbi Shallum, son of the then Resh Gelutha, in Babel, aka Abu Bachr al Chaliva al Zadik. Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph, and was in fact son of the then Resh Gelutha, in Babel, who perceiving a dreadful predicament, sent Rabbi Shallum to Mahomed, and told him to offer his submission, friendship, and services, and endeavour to enter with him into a friendly compact. Mahomed accepted Rabbi Shallum’s proposition with pleasure, conceived a great affection for him, and took his daughter, Aisha, a handsome young child, for wife; he made him also a general in his army, and gave him the name of Abu Bachr al Chaliva al Zadik, literally:

      The father of the maiden, the descendant of the righteous; this means, that of all his wives, who were either widows or divorced women, this one was the only one who had never been married before, and then she was the granddaughter of the celebrated chief of the captivity; therefore, the descendant of the righteous. This occurrence induced Mahomed to give up his terrible intention to destroy the Jews in his country, and thus did Rabbi Shallum save his people.

      THE BETRAYAL

      [Why Muhammad hated alcohol]

      Abu Bachr and Aliman now resolved among themselves to remove the dangerous enemy of the Jews, Bucheran. One evening Mahomed, Bucheran, Aliman, and Abu Bachr, were drinking together; the latter two soon saw that Mahomed and the astrologer were strongly intoxicated, and lay stretched out in a deep and profound sleep. Abu Bachr thereupon drew the sword of Mahomed from its scabbard, cut off therewith Bucharan’s head, and put the bloody sword back into its receptacle, and both then lay themselves down quietly near Mahomed to sleep. When Mahomed awoke and saw his friend lying decapitated near him, he cried out in a fury: “This terrible deed has been done by one of us three in our drunkenness!” Abu Bachr thereupon said quite unconcernedly: “Let each one draw his sword, and he whose weapon is stained with blood, must needs be the murderer!” They all drew their swords, and that of Mahomed was completely dyed with fresh blood, which proved thus clearly to his satisfaction that he had murdered his friend. He was greatly grieved at this discovery; cursed and condemned the wine which was the cause of this murder, and swore that he never would drink any more, and that also no one should do so who wishes to enter heaven. This is the cause why wine is prohibited to the Mahomedans.

      At a later period, Mahomed learned the whole transaction, and that his father-in-law was the perpetrator of the bloody deed; wherefore, he lost his favour, and he would not permit him to come before him. Abu Bachr went thereupon and conquered sixty places, which had not yet submitted to Mahomed, and presented them to him, through which means he became again reconciled to him, was received in favour, and remained thereafter at court.

      THE MOTHER OF MOHAMMED, AMINA WAS OF JEWISH BIRTH:
      Von Hammer
      “Mohammed, who was the only son of Abdallah, a Pagan, and Amina, a Jewess, and was descended from the noble but impoverished family of Hashim, of the priestly tribe of Koreish, who were the chiefs and keepers of the national sanctuary of the Kaaba, and pretended to trace their origin to Ismael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, was born at Mecca, August 20, A.D. 570 …’

      At that period, there were many “Jews’ in that area. Again from The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, volume 5, page 202:

      “Seven hundred years before the death of Mahomet the Jews were settled in Arabia; and a far greater multitude was expelled from the Holy Land in the wars of Titus and Hadrian. The industrious exiles aspired to liberty and power: they erected synagogues in the cities, and castles in the wilderness; and their Gentile converts were confounded with the children of Israel [Jews] …”

      Waves of Israelites to Arabia bringing Judaism in various stages of development

      The traditional view of Arabian history centers on Yemen. It is assumed that a fairly developed civilization grew in the south of the Arabian Peninsula. For several hundred years it grew rich by exporting gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Roman Empire; as well as controlling the overland routes to India and the East. The first collapse of the Marib dam around 450 CE; the decline of the use of frankincense due to the Christianization of Rome; and the Rome success bypassing the desert by using a sea route led to the collapse of southern Arabian society. This in turn led to waves of immigration from the South to North, from the city to the desert.

      Dr. Günter Lüling proposes an alternative paradigm.[1] He proposes a “more historical picture of Central Arabia, inundated throughout a millennium by heretical Israelites”. He envisions waves of Israelite refugees headed, North to South, to Arabia bringing with them Judaism in various stages of development. Linguistic and literary-historical research in the Qur’an tends to support the notion of a more northerly origin for linguistic development of Arabic.[2] Here is a brief summary of three of these waves of Judaic immigration: Herodian, Sadducean and Zealot (explained in more detail elsewhere).[3]

      KAABA BUILT BY JEWS

      During the time of Ptolemy, the native population of Cush originally inhabited both sides of the Red Sea: on the east, southern and eastern Arabia; and on the west, Abyssinia (Ethiopia-Eritrea). During the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor (r 181–145 BCE), the Jewish High Priest Onias IV built a Jewish Temple in Heliopolis, Egypt and also one in Mecca, Arabia. He did this to fulfill his understanding of the prophecy of Isaiah 19:19, “In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord (Heliopolis) in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border (Mecca) thereof to the Lord.” The border of Ptolemy’s empire was in Arabia.

      The first wave of immigrants came with the success of the Maccabean, later Herodian, Judeo-Arab kingdom. Romanized Arabs (and Jews) from the trans-Jordan began migrating southward. The Tobiads which briefly had controlled Jerusalem extended their power southward from Petra and established the “Tubba” dynasty of kings of Himyar. Yathrib was settled during this period.

      The second wave of immigrants came before the destruction of the Temple, when refugees fleeing the war, as well as the Sadducean leadership, fled to Arabia. Khaibar was established as a city of Sadducean Cohen-Priests at this time.

      The third wave of immigrants were mostly refugees and soldiers from Bar Kochba’s revolt – fighters trained in the art of war and zealously nationalistic – sought refugee in Arabia.

      This last wave of immigrants included people who are known in Islamic literature as the Aus and the Khazraj. Around 300 CE, they were forced out of Syria by the rising strength of Christian Rome, and the adoption of the Ghassan leader, Harith I, of Christianity. At first the Aus and Khazraj lived on the outskirts of Yathrib. According to Islamic sources, the Khazraj, headed by Malik ibn Ajlan, sought and obtained military assistance from the Bani Ghasaan; and having enticed the principal chiefs of Yathrib into an enclosed tent, massacred them.[4] Then the citizens of Yathrib, beguiled into security by a treacherous peace, attended a feast given by their unprincipled foes; and there a second butchery took place, in which they lost the whole of their leaders.[5]

      REFERENCES:
      1.”A new Paradigm for the Rise of Islam and its Consequences for a New Paradigm of the History of Israel” by Dr. Günter Lüling; Originally appeared in The Journal of Higher Criticism Nr. 7/1, Spring 2000, pp. 23-53.
      2.Hagarism, Crone and Cook
      3.See the authors essays “The Prophet Muhammed as a descendant of Onias III” and “From Bar Kochba to the Prophet Muhammed”
      4.See Katib at Wackidi, p. 287.
      5. “Life of Mohamet I”, by Sir Walter Muir, Chapter III, Section 6

      LEONTOPOLIS

      Onias IV described in Jewish history as someone trying to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah 19. He was son of high priest Onias III in the Jerusalem temple, who was humiliated and booted out by the Hasmonean Jews. Josephus says about his establishing a temple in Egypt:

      “Yet did not Onias do this out of a sober disposition, but he had a mind to contend with the Jews at Jerusalem, and could not forget the indignation he had for being banished thence. Accordingly, he thought that by building this temple he should draw away a great number from them to himself.”

      “LEONTOPOLIS: Place in the nome of Heliopolis, Egypt, situated 180 stadia from Memphis; famous as containing a Jewish sanctuary, the only one outside of Jerusalem where sacrifices were offered….According to Josephus, the temple of Leontopolis existed for 343 years, though the general opinion is that this number must be changed to 243. It was closed either by the governor of Egypt, Lupus, or by his successor, Paulinus, about three years after the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem; and the sacrificial gifts, or rather the interior furnishings, were confiscated for the treasury of Vespasian (“B. J.” vii. 10, § 4), the emperor fearing that through this temple Egypt might become a new center for Jewish rebellion.

      Josephus’ account in the “Antiquities” is therefore more probable, namely, that the builder of the temple was a son of the murdered Onias III., and that, a mere youth at the time of his father’s death, he had fled to the court of Alexandria in consequence of the Syrian persecutions, perhaps because he thought that salvation would come to his people from Egypt (“Ant.” xii. 5, § 1; ib. 9, § 7). Ptolemy VI. Philometor was King of Egypt at that time. He probably had not yet given up his claims to Cœle-Syria and Judea, and gladly gave refuge to such a prominent personage of the neighboring country. Onias now requested the king and his sister and wife, Cleopatra, to allow him to build a sanctuary in Egypt similar to the one at Jerusalem, where he would employ Levites and priests of his own race (ib. xiii. 3, § 1); and he referred to the prediction of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah. xix. 19) that a Jewish temple would be erected in Egypt (“Ant.” l.c.). The Onias temple was not exactly similar to the Temple at Jerusalem, being more in the form of a high tower; and as regards the interior arrangement, it had not a candelabrum, but a hanging lamp.
      In the Talmud the origin of the temple of Onias is narrated with legendary additions, there being two versions of the account (Men. 109b). It must be noted that here also Onias is mentioned as the son of Simon, and that Isaiah’s prophecy is referred to.

      In regard to the Law the temple of Onias (…, handed down in the name of Saadia Gaon as … ) was looked upon as neither legitimate nor illegitimate, but as standing midway between the worship of Yhwh and idolatry (Men. 109a; Tosef., Men. xiii. 12-14);”

      As you can see from the description above, this rogue high priest, Onias IV, who felt abandoned by Hasmonean Jews, constructed a temple on the border of Egypt, with a tower (pillar/ minaret), where he and his descendants performed sacrifices and dreamed of uniting his family with Egyptians and Assyrians, for the purpose of fulfilling the prophecy in ISAIAH 19. His temple was closed three years after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (the Romans fearing it could become the center for a Jewish revolt). After that, there is no mention of the whereabouts of this family among Jews.

      On the other end, we have Muhammad, claiming to be described in the Bible, leads a revolt against the Romans, fulfills Isaiah 19, worships a Jewish form of God, with an altar and a high tower, no candlebrums, lamps hanging, performing sacrifices, circling the Kabaa etc like a Jewish priest, on the border of Egypt, ministering to non Jews (as prophesized in Isaiah 19) and belonging to a tribe that was founded by a man whose DNA is identical to the Cohens and who lived at the time when Onias Temple was shut down! I don’t think it is that hard to see the connection here. All it would have taken is for the Romans to bear down on the Jews, and this Jewish family, like so many others, would have moved south, but stayed along the border of Egypt and settled down in Mecca, where they could minister to the locals, as they had in Leontopolis and fulfill Isaiah 19. It does not seem that difficult to imagine.

  3. I find problematic one of the statements of the good Abbott, to whit, “to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.” How can the unfortunate adherents of this pernicious heresy be filled with the “Gift of the Spirit”, when that gift is only given to those who have been reborn in Christ through baptism? I am sorry that this dear Abbott seems to be imbued with that spirit of Modernism so prevalent within certain monastic communities, including the Trappists, that emerged post Vatican II ala Merton. Maybe as a mystic he had deeper insights into these truths than I, but his statements appear at best to possess the flavor of Indifferentism.

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