Sunday, September 23, 2012

Of gods and men - the Trappist martyrs of Algeria

Last night I finished watching the movie “Of gods and men”  - “Des hommes et des dieux,” – on the Trappist monks killed in Algeria in 1996.

Ten years ago I read the book of John Kizer, The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria, which affected me deeply. But though I had gotten the DVD about a year ago, I had only watched the first forty or so minutes. For some reason – fear, perhaps – I hadn’t stopped to finish watching the film.

What can I say?

I was deeply moved, at times to tears.

Here is a story of conflict – within the community when the prior, Frère Christian, seems to take a position without consulting the entire community (which the Rule of St. Benedict urges). It is a story also of inner conflict as Frère Christophe struggles over the decision of whether to stay or leave. It is also the story of the conflict with a form of fanatic Islam.

But it is also a story of courage, as the monks decide finally to stay despite the danger. It is a story of the courage of the monks to peacefully confront the armed rebels who invade the monastery on Christmas Eve. He even reminds the armed leader that that night was special – the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

It is also a story of love for the poor. Frère Luc, an elderly physician, attend the people who come to his dispensary for aid – sometimes more than 100 per day.

I noted above all the tenderness and fraternal love of the monks.

Frère Amédée massages the shoulders of Frère Christophe after the armed men leave the monastery on Christmas Eve.

When a government helicopter passes over the monastery grounds, the brothers, joined at that moment in prayer, embrace each others as they sing.

But the scene that most struck me was the “last supper,” a meal which comes just before they are taken hostage.

Frère Luc enters with two bottles of wine and puts on a tape of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. As the brothers sit and drink the wine,  you can see the joy and peace on their faces. It is replaced a bit later by seriousness, but a joy – mixed with tears (of joy or of tenderness) replaces the seriousness.

At one point when the community is discerning whether to stay or to leave monk says, “I am not afraid of death. I am a free man.”

I think that’s what the writer of the letter of the Hebrews (2:15) referred to when he says that Christ came to “free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.”

These monks passed through the fear of death and lived, even though they were killed.

They lived and died, as one monk says when confronted with the option of leaving, as ‘frères de tous” – brothers of everyone.

The film ends with the monks in captivity with a voice over from Frère Christian’s letter, a letter that reveals a deep love even for the ones who would killed him. I believe he wrote it soon after the Christmas Eve visited of the armed rebels. It is a letter that should be read in light of the current events in Libya and the Muslim world.A translation can be found here.

I hope that many will take the time to watch the movie and read the book on the monks. Their witness may help us to live more fully – with others – as children of God.

Insha’ AllahOjalá – God willing.

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