Last testament of Dom Christian de Chergé
In the middle of the night of March 26-27, 1996, seven monks of Our Lady of Atlas, a Trappist monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria, were kidnapped by members of the Islamist Armed Group (GIA), guerrillas determined to drive non-Muslims from Algeria and to impose an Islamist government. On April 18, the GIA contacted the French government and offered to free the monks in return for releasing several of its members from prison, but this proposal was never considered. On May 21, the GIA announced that the monks had been executed. On May 31, their decapitated heads were found. On June 4, their bodies were brought back to the monastery and buried.
Their willingness to make peace with their enemies was dramatically articulated in a letter written by their superior, Dom Christian de Chergé. He wrote it soon after the GIA announced that they would begin to assassinate all foreigners and left instructions that it was to be opened upon his death. As a text on which to meditate and perhaps discover how we may respond to the threat of terrorism with an offering of peace, it is worth quoting 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 engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country. I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to thus brutal departure. I would ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or 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 am an accomplice in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I would like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who will 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 the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. It would be too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called the "grace of martyrdom" to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately. I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters. It is too easy to soothe one's conscience by identify this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algerian and Islam are not that, but rather a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it. I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic: "Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!" But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, please God: 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 restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed 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 sisters and brothers and their families. You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this "A-DIEU" to be for you, too, because in God's face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
AMEN! IN H'ALLAH
Algiers, December 1,, 1993
Tibhirine, January 1,, 1994