Pierre Claverie: Decolonising Mission
2. Un Algérien par alliance. A Biography Read in the Light of the Mission
2.1. Pierre Claverie of Algeria. Le Pris de Conscience—A Call for Other Kind of Mission
I lived my childhood in Algiers in a working-class neighbourhood of that cosmopolitan Mediterranean city. In contrast to other Europeans born in the countryside or in small towns, I never had Arabic friends—not at the local elementary school, where there were no Arabs, nor at my high school, where they were only a few and where the Algerian war was beginning to create an explosive environment. We were not racist, merely indifferent, ignoring the majority of the people in this country. They were part of the landscape of our outings, the background of our meetings and of our lives. They were never equal partners.
My Algerian brothers and friends, (…) to you I owe the fact that I discovered Algeria, which was still my country, even though I lived there as a foreigner all my youth. With you I learned the Arabic language, and, above all, I learned to understand and speak the language of the heart, the language of brotherly friendship in which all races and religions communicate.
2.2. The Algeria of Pierre Claverie. A Mission Developed in Times of Political Decolonisation
…we have both inherited an image of the other that is superimposed on reality. At every moment and, especially in times of crisis, terms such as the warriors of Allah, the Turkish or Moors invading Europe emerge in the Western imaginary and discourses while the Muslims always remember the Crusades and the period of colonialism.
On the gravel on the seashore there were French officers dressed (…) in uniforms and there was also a majestic ship that reached the shore (…). A bishop in liturgical vestments was descending and the officer with the rifle in one hand extended the other hand to allow the bishop to reach the African shores. On the day when a bishop set foot in this way in Algeria, the seeds of the War of Independence and of the rejection of Christianity had already been sown.
Bravo! Well done to you, the heroes of justice who have struck again, have long analysed the political situation in the country, developed a strategy, chosen the most significant victims, tried to influence public opinion and change the balance of power throughout history. (…) Well done to you who have chosen this kind of war that you call jihad, a holy war against the enemies of God, of tyrants and exploiters, corrupt and hypocrites, infidels—Jews or Christians.
3. A Genuine Christian Mission According to Pierre Claverie
3.1. Encountering the Other in Truth and Truths
At this moment, the key word of my faith is dialogue, not because this is a strategic choice (…) but because I feel that dialogues constitutes the relation of God with people and of people with each other. (…) May the other, may all others, be the passion and the wound through which God will be able to break into our fortress of self-satisfactory.
As soon as we claim-and in the Catholic Church we have had this sad experience during our history-to possess the truth or to speak in the name of humanity, we fall into totalitarianism and exclusion. (…) There are certainly objective truths, but they are beyond all of us, and one can reach them only through a long journey and by slowly recomposing that truth by collecting from other cultures, from other types of humanity, what others have also gained, have searched for in their own journey toward truth. I am a believer. I believe in one God, but I do not claim to possess that God, either through Jesus who reveals him to me, or through the tenets of my faith. One does not possess God. One does not possess the truth, and I need the truth of others. This is the experience that I am having now with thousands of Algerians in the sharing of an existence and the questions that we all ask ourselves.
3.2. Freeing the Mission from Aggression
Yes, our Church is sent on a mission. I am not afraid of saying it (…). Many misunderstandings inherited hang over the mission and missionaries. Let us say clearly today: we are not and we do not want to be aggressors. (…). We are not and we do not want to be the soldiers of a new crusade against Islam, against the absence of faith, or against anyone. We do not want to be agents of an economic or cultural neo-colonialism that divides the Algerian people to better control them.20
We are not and we do not want to be evangelical proselyters who think they honour God’s love by a tactless zeal and a total lack of respect for the other, for his culture, for his faith. However, we are and we want to be missionaries of the love of God, as we have discovered it in Jesus Christ. This love, infinitely respectful of humans, does not impose anything, does not coerce coincidences and hearts.
3.3. A Renewed Sense for the Notion of Crusade. The Cross–The Supreme Gain of the Mission
We are in Algeria because of this crucified Messiah. We are not driven by who knows what masochistic or suicidal perversion. Because of Jesus because he is the one who suffers here in this violence that forgives no one and in which he is crucified again in the flesh of thousands and thousands of innocents.
3.4. For a Mystical Understanding of the Mission
Living in the Muslim world, I know the weight of this temptation to withdraw into oneself, the difficulty of mutual understanding and of respecting each other. Additionally, I can measure perfectly the abyss that separates us… We would not be able to bridge this gap by ourselves. However, God, in Jesus, gives us the means to measure the length, the breadth, the depth and the extent of His Love. Supported by this revelation we can regain confidence… To give one’s life for this reconciliation as Jesus gave his life to knock down the wall of hatred that separated Jews, Greeks, pagans, slaves, and free men, is not that a good way to honour his sacrifice?
Pierre taught that friendship means first of all common trust in God, love of the other and human solidarity, being a Christian or a Muslim came afterwards, this was not the most important issue at his school; in this school we were taught obedience, dialogue or simply love. Dear friends, today I too am a victim of terrorism, and my flesh has been touched. Dear friends, I am also a victim because I am his Muslim daughter.
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The expression belogns to Gianni Festa (Festa 2019a, p. 9).
The term used to describe people of French or other European origins, born in Algeria during the period of French rule (1830–1962).
Cheick, Sheikh = Arabic title of respect dating from pre-Islamic antiquity; it strictly means a venerable man of more than fifty years of age. The title sheikh is especially borne by heads of religious orders, heads of colleges, such as Al-Azhar University in Cairo, chiefs of tribes, and headmen of villages and separate quarters of towns. It is also applied to learned men, especially members of the class of ʿulamāʾ (theologians), and has been applied to anyone who has memorized the whole Qur’ān, however young he might be. According to Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition (2020).
For more information on the family’s correspondance and their strong relationships see, despite the already-quoted volumes that contain the published letters, the testimony of Pierre’s sister: (Gustavson-Claverie 2019).
This essay was pubblished for the first time in 1996, just five months before Claverie’s death in Nouveaux Cahiers de Sud, republished the same year by Le Monde 4–5 August (1996), included in Pérennès’ biography (2000) and finally in the volume Humanité plurielle (Claverie 2008a).
The city of Oran has a very interesting multicultural history, being founded at the beginning of the tenth century by Andalusian merchants as a base for trade with the North African hinterland, and it developed commercially owing to its sea connections with Europe. It was occupied by the Spanish in 1509. For the next two centuries, Oran was contested by the various Mediterranean powers until it fell to the Turks in 1708, who settled a Jewish community there in 1792. Oran was occupied in 1831 by the French, who developed it as a modern port and turned Mers el-Kebir into a major naval base. Oran had a higher proportion of European inhabitants than any other North African city, and much strife occurred between the French and the Arab Muslims at the time of Algerian independence in 1962. See: (Britannica 2020).
EN: On the Steps of the Flag.
See the image here: https://www.leslibraires.fr/livre/5395305-sur-les-pas-du-drapeau-1830–1866--abbe-e-munoz-les-editions-catholiques-heintz-freres-oran (accessed on 20 December 2021)
Charles Martial Allemand-Lavigerie (1825–1892), Bishop of Nancy, was appointed Archbishop of Algiers in 1867. In a letter to Governor General Patrice MacMahon, he stated: “Algeria is only the door opened by Providence on a barbaric continent of 200 million souls. It is especially there that we must bring the Catholic apostolate. We cannot leave these people with their Qur’an. France must give them the Gospel”. See: (Naylor 2010, p. 725).
For more information on this issue see: (Taith 2006).
With this expression, he is close to Nostra Aetate, though having a mystical approach manages to surpass the official character of the Decree of Second Vatican Council, which remains too stuck to a “what is common” attitude. Nostra Aetate 2: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions”.
This expression inspired from the Pascal’s words (Blaise Pascal, Pensées) pefectly applies to the ministry and to the theological thinking of Pierre Claverie; even if totally rooted and convinced in and by his own Christian religious trouth, Claverie did not consider approapiate to impose it on somebody by any means, mostly by military colonisation. Pascal’s idea—making an idol out of the trouth—could easily be applied here to those using their own belief as an excuse for terrorist attacks or military campaigns.
Expression bellongs to Sidney Griffith and referred another scholar. See: (Sudworth 2014, p. 469).
The Decree of Second Vatican Council remains too stuck to a “what is common” attitude. Nostra Aetate 2: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions”.
Known also as the Martyrs of Algeria and slain between 1994 and 1996, the nineteen victims were: one bishop (Pierre Claverie), four missionaries, seven Trappist friars, a Marist friar and six nuns belonging to various Congregations. These nineteen were mainly of French, but also Spanish or Belgian. Their commune cause of beatification concluded in 2018 when Pope Francis confirmed their official inscription into the martyrologium of the Church. Among those, another well-known figure is that of Christian de Chergé, Prior of Tibhirine Monastery. For more information see: (Georgeon and Henning 2018).
See the Chapter: “In the Beginning was the Word. A Word that Takes us Out of the Bubble” of the spiritual retreat Petit traité de la rencontre et du dialogue. (Claverie 2004).
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Crișan, A.-M. Pierre Claverie: Decolonising Mission. Religions 2022, 13, 197. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030197
Crișan A-M. Pierre Claverie: Decolonising Mission. Religions. 2022; 13(3):197. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030197Chicago/Turabian Style
Crișan, Alexandru-Marius. 2022. "Pierre Claverie: Decolonising Mission" Religions 13, no. 3: 197. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030197