Algeria's Martyr for Muslim-Christian Dialogue

Book Published on Bishop Pierre Claverie

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ROME, NOV. 22, 2004 ( Bishop Pierre Claverie, murdered in Algeria in 1996, has bequeathed with his life two important elements for dialogue between Muslims and Christians: cordiality and realism.

So says Dominican Father Jean-Jacques Pérennès, a professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Cairo, in a new book dedicated to the slain bishop of Oran. Father Pérennès spent 10 years with Bishop Claverie.

Entitled «Bishop Among Muslims, Pierre Claverie, Martyr in Algeria» («Vescovo tra i Musulmani, Pierre Claverie, Martire in Algeria,» Città Nuova), the volume was presented last Thursday in the St. Louis of France cultural center of the French Embassy in the Vatican.

On hand were the author; Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; and Vincent Aucante, director of the host center.

Archbishop Fitzgerald told the gathering: «We certainly find all the qualities enumerated on the role of a bishop, especially friendship, in Pierre Claverie. We can say that Pierre carried friendship with him. He was everyone’s friend, and we know how difficult the Algerian situation is.»

«He has been a Christian example,» the prelate said. «He loved the members of his natural family and of his religious family; the latter friendship connected with professional work and his pastoral ministry.»

Explaining how Bishop Claverie succeeded in establishing dialogue between Islam and Christianity, Father Pérennès told ZENIT: «He has shed an original light on the meeting between Christians and Muslims, approaching dialogue in a warm but also realistic manner, aware of the difficulties of the meeting in regard to the dogmas of the faith.

«He gave priority to human relations, although this posture was nourished by faith and courage. He gave his life for his convictions, in solidarity with all Algerians, who dream about a future open Algeria.»

Of his friendship with Bishop Claverie, the author said: «I have so many memories that unite me to him. The most intense is that of the day of my priestly ordination. And I still feel very close to him. I have written this book to continue to give a voice to one they wished to silence by killing him.»

Pierre Claverie was born in Algiers in 1938 in the neighborhood of Bab el-Oued, which he himself called the «colonial bubble.» He killed by a bomb on Aug. 1, 1996, together with his Muslim driver, Mohammed Pouchikhi.

The Dominican, who had dedicated all his life to foster dialogue between Muslims and Christians, had such profound knowledge of Islam that, according to a report in the British Catholic review The Tablet, he was often consulted on this subject by Muslims themselves.

During 1992-2000, violence by Muslim extremists led to the death of 19 men and women religious, including seven Trappist monks at a monastery at Thibirine.

Father Pérennès’ book, originally written in French, has been translated into Arabic. An English version is in preparation.

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