In Algeria, Church Calls for "Common Resistance" to Violence

Archbishop Tessier Responds to Muslim Attacks

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PARIS, AUG. 23, 2002 ( In the face of attacks by Muslim commandos virtually every week, Archbishop Henri Tessier of Algiers appealed for «a common resistance.»

Catholics have also been the object of Muslim extremist commandos, notorious among which is the Armed Islamic Group. On May 21, 1996, seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine were killed, and on the following Aug. 1 Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran was murdered.

This year, 960 people have died, including 300 members of the Armed Islamic Group.

Archbishop Tessier, the leading Church figure in Algeria, has written a book on the Algerian drama. «Chrétiens en Algérie» («Christians in Algeria») has just been published in France by Desclée de Brouwer.

The archbishop appeals to Catholics to engage in a «common resistance» together with Muslim humanists, and opposes dialogue with Muslims who resort to violence to implement their ideas.

«With each one holding to his respective spiritual tradition, Islam or Christianity, it is an endeavor to become brothers and sisters who work together for the good of Algerian society, to help the most poor and underprivileged,» the archbishop states.

«To give violent Muslims the status of negotiators is to oppose Muslims who resist, risking their lives,» he continues, echoing a position taken by Bishop Claverie.

As to what can be done specifically, Archbishop Tessier proposes «living every day life» together with Muslims, «going shopping, going to work every morning» with them. This is the first answer to fundamentalists’ violence, he says.

To further clarify his position on nonviolent resistance, the archbishop gave the example of villagers who in 1995 refused to accept the Armed Islamic Group’s prohibition to attend a local school.

«Undoubtedly, this response is not sufficient,» he said. «It is necessary that those who are responsible, at another level, promote political, economic and cultural solutions.»

Archbishop Tessier also believes that the West also has responsibilities. «The fact that 10 or 20 people are killed in an Algerian mountain is of no concern to the West which, however, is uneasy the minute the Saudis begin to exert pressure with their oil,» he stated.

According to Aid to the Church in Need, which publishes an annual report on religious liberty in the world, the problem in Algeria began in 1962, following independence from France, when Islam became the state religion.

Since then, many churches have been turned into mosques, and Christians have had to refrain from expressing their religious identity externally, although the importation of Bibles and other Christian works is tolerated.

About 99% of Algeria’s 31 million inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. Only 3,000 Catholics are left in the country, according to the Church’s statistical yearbook.

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