By Mirko Testa and Roland Tannoury
JOUNIEH, Lebanon, JUNE 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The former archbishop of Algiers, Algeria, is expressing joy over the upcoming Synod of Bishops assembly for the Middle East, which will take place in October.
“We were very happy in North Africa to learn that the Holy Father decided to bring us together,” Archbishop Henri Teissier told ZENIT.
He noted that he was also part of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops last October, which focused on the “common topics we share with the Church in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Yet “we are also in the Arab world,” the prelate said, “which has its specific problems, and it seems important to us that the universal Church pause to take into account in a truly particular way the problems of Christians who are minorities in the Arab world, beginning with those in the Middle East, even if we, Christians of the Maghreb, will be associated as guests.”
ZENIT spoke with Archbishop Teissier in Jounieh, where he participated in the two-day annual meeting of the Scientific Committee of the Oasis Foundation, founded in 2004 to develop ways of promoting dialogue and coexistence between Christians and Muslims.
The meeting, which ended today, focused on the theme, “The Education of Faith and Culture: Experience Christian and Muslim Dialogue.”
Archbishop Teissier experienced this interreligious dialogue often in his work as archbishop of Algiers from 1988 until his retirement in 2008.
Originally from Lyon, France, he was ordained a priest in 1955 for the Algiers Archdiocese. He was present in that country during the dark chapter of the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962).
Appointed bishop of Oran in 1972, and coadjutor of Algiers in 1980, he remained in Algeria during the first years of the newborn republic, full of political and military intrigues that drove many to embrace fundamentalism, thus precipitating the country into civil war (1991-2002).
Despite this season of blood, which also assailed the Church during the 90s, Archbishop Teissier chose not to leave the country.
He told ZENIT that education in Algeria “played an important role in relations between Christians and Muslims, especially the schools of the White Fathers and White Sisters” until all the schools were nationalized following the country’s independence in 1962.
Nonetheless, the prelate recalled, some 45,000 students passed through the Catholic schools in those years, and “many parents recall with emotion what they received.”
“These schools were nationalized, but we have other types of educational collaborations,” he explained.
“We have a certain number of endeavors for the formation of young girls and women,” the archbishop reported. “We have a magazine that has existed for 22 years, which is edited together by Christians and Muslims in the same writing committee.”
This magazine, he added, “is then distributed under the responsibility of the Red Cross in Algeria,” and it shows “that in this milieu there is sufficient trust to be able to send elements of formation to young girls and women at the national level.”
Archbishop Teissier also spoke about his experience in Lebanon, during which he visited Baalbek, where a congregation of sisters is educating a group of 1,000 students, including 100 Christians and 900 Muslims.
Of the 70 teachers, five are Christian and the rest are Muslim, he said. “Hence, it is clear that with an example such as this we are engaged in educational collaborations that imply differences of faith and culture, because among these children there are Christians, Sunnite children and Shiites.”
“Each of these groups has its own religious references and its own traditions,” the prelate added, yet all are working together in the field of education.