Trappist Remembers Monks Murdered in Algeria

5 Years Later, Tibhirine Monastery Is Empty

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 22, 2001 ( The discovery of the bodies of seven Trappist monks in Algeria on May 21, 1996, sent shock waves through the country and the Muslim community in the region.

The seven, of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas in Thibirine, had been kidnapped two months earlier by a Muslim terrorist group.

Other Catholics — men and women religious, and even a bishop — had been killed previously in the country, and even in the same diocese. But the case of the community of Tibhirine, which had been a symbol of the interreligious dialogue, overwhelmed the country.

To recall the tragedy, Vatican Radio spoke with Father Armand Vielleux, who was the Trappist procurator general at the time.

–Q: What happened?

–Father Vielleux: It was a very intense and difficult period. A period of prayer, because we were almost certain, at least at the beginning, that our brothers were still alive. We imagined what they were going through, and wanted to live it with them in prayer.

–Q: On several occasions you have said that it is not about individual witnessing, but the sacrifice of a whole community.

–Father Vielleux: Yes, because it was a very united community. They made all decisions by common consent. They made the decision, in community, to remain faithful to their vocation and to the people with whom they lived.

–Q: What remains of the Tibhirine community?

–Father Vielleux: Now, there is nothing in Tibhirine. The monastery is there, but it is not possible to live in it. We do not have the government´s permission, as it believes the region is still too dangerous. Because of this, at present, part of the Tibhirine community is in Morocco. A group of them hoped to return to Tibhirine this year, but it is not possible: There is too much violence in the Medea region.

–Q: Given that one can pray anywhere, and lead a contemplative life in any place, why is it necessary to go to live it in such a dangerous place?

–Father Vielleux: The monks of Tibhirine had established strong ties with the country, with the local people, with the Muslims, with the Christians of the area. For them, to be faithful at that time of difficulty was an absolute imperative.

Now, the Trappists want to return in response to a call from the people. The Muslim people are very close to that monastery, they have looked after it, guarded it, and desire the presence of the monks. This is due to fidelity to a communion that was established over many years between the Muslim people and a community of Christian prayer.

–Q: In your order, a monk takes a vow of stability. Up to what point are they willing to pay the price for this?

–Father Vielleux: It is a price our seven brothers paid with their life. When difficulties arise, it is not the time to go, even if we have the possibility of doing so.

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