Charles de Foucauld’s embrace with the persecuted peoples of the Middle East

Posted on Oct 31, 2015

Charles De Foucauld (Photo: Courtesy Vatican Insider)

Charles De Foucauld (Photo: Courtesy Vatican Insider)

The celebrations for the centenary of his death, which falls in 2016, start in Nazareth today. The Little Brothers recall how he witnessed the Armenian genocide at first hand, but still remained everyone’s brother. Besides this anniversary though, the celebrations in Nazareth are meant as a special gift to the Arab world which is going through very trying times.

by Giorgio Bernardelli

(Vatican Insider) October 31, 2015 – They follow the “hidden life” of Jesus – the 30-year period spent in Nazareth before his preaching – as a model. You won’t often see them in the limelight, very rarely in fact. But they are about to make an exception (for once) as the centenary of the death of the Blessed Charles de Foucauld – the French hermit who spent much of his life in the Sahara desert leaving an indelible mark on 20th century spirituality – approaches. The various branches of the religious family that is inspired by the life of this hermit, have organised a year of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of his death on 1 December 2016. Today marks the start of the celebrations in Nazareth. Charles de Foucauld was killed on 1 December 1916 by a group of plunderers in Tamanrasset, in the Algerian desert, where the former French adventurer had settled to live out his vocation as a “universal brother”, a living image of Jesus’ love among the small, the poor and non-Christians.

The choice of Nazareth as the hub for the centenary celebrations is obviously not coincidental: it was here that de Foucauld experienced a fundamental turning point in his spiritual journey, living as a hermit in the Poor Clares convent from 1897 to 1900. He developed his ideal of following Jesus in his “hidden life” too, fraternally sharing the life of those who lived in what today we would call the peripheries of the world, as the little village of Galilee – which became the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation – must have been two thousand years ago. And so, in Nazareth this evening, there will be music and a series of readings from the diary of Charles de Foucauld, with accounts of the three years he spent in the city of the Annunciation. The Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, Mgr. Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo will be present at this evening’s event being held in the Holy Family School operated by the Don Guanella religious institute. This is just the first of a whole host of events that will include a 24 hour Eucharistic adoration for peace on 1 December 2015 (liturgical feast of the Blessed de Foucauld, raised to the altars by Benedict XVI in 2005), an Arabic language performance illustrating his life, meetings with Catholic schools in the Holy Land and other interreligious events.

Besides this anniversary though, the celebrations in Nazareth are meant as a special gift to the Arab world which is going through very trying times. Bro. Marco Cosini – a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus Caritas, which is based in the very house owned by the Blessed de Foucauld, in Nazareth – explained: “He is a venerated fellow citizen among the Christians of Nazareth; they are proud of him. But his memory is being lost among the younger generations: very few people know about his life. This is why we felt there was an urgent need to allow the Blessed Charles’ voice to resonate here once again.”

Is it still possible, however, to reintroduce this figure’s ideal of unconditional fraternity with everyone, among the persecuted Christian communities of the Middle East today? “Before the Nazareth years, Charles de Foucauld lived in the Trappist monastery in Akbes, Syria,” said Bro. Cosini. “In those years, the tragedy of the Armenian genocide had already begun. He kept meticulous records of the names of the martyrs who accompanied his stay in Syria. He himself wanted to offer his life as a martyr. Sadly, in the Middle East today, martyrdom has once again become part of the Christian reality. And while, on the one hand, such as big death toll cannot be tolerated – possibly because of the indifference shown by the Western powers (but not only) – on the other hand, we cannot but hold onto Charles de Foucauld’s passionate love for his Lord Jesus. This is the path we must follow despite the difficulties along the way. It is a path that brings us into Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. A relationship marked by a deep, intense and limitless love, which, in its most extreme form, cannot exclude the prospect of martyrdom.”

“Naturally,” Bro. Cosini added, “it is no easy task getting this sentiment to grow and dealing with the challenges of everyday life which are all too apparent beyond the pretty theories. We are well aware of existing difficulties, especially those faced by our Christian brothers and sisters in this land, who meet with brothers and sisters of other religions on a daily basis. We often find ourselves listening to the testimonies of people whose only way of communicating with others is the language of violence. The breadth of fraternity we wish to experience must be coupled with an honest quest for the ‘goodness’ and the ‘good’ of others.”