As France again reels from violence unleashed against its citizens, my mind goes to the French monks who lived in Tibhirine in the early 1990’s.

The tiny Trappist community of eight men who lived at Notre-Dame de l’Atlas monastery in the Atlas mountains near Tibhirine south west of Algiers in northern Algeria, lived peaceably in a troubled part of the world. In the 1990’s Algeria was a frightening country that had been decimated by a century of colonialism and forty years of internal strife, violence, political intrigue, and terrorism.

The monks loved the people of the village around their monastery. They respected their Muslim neighbours. The Brothers of Tibhirine shared their lives, their skills, and their compassion with everyone without distinction…even terrorists.

The monks did not try to change anyone. They did not try to convince anyone their beliefs were wrong. They only wanted to live alongside their Muslim brothers and sisters in peace, serving them and caring for them in whatever practical ways they could.

On the night of 26–27 March 1996 the seven monks who despite repeated warning to leave, remained at Tibhirine were kidnapped and held for two months.

Their bodies were found in late May 1996. The circumstances of their deaths remain a mystery. But, the monks always knew they were at risk. So on 1 January 1994 Dom Christian de Cherge, OCSO had completed a last “Testament” which he entrusted to his nephew in France be opened in the event of his death.

This “Testament” was read in public in France on Pentecost Sunday, two days after Dom Christian’s death.

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Here are some excerpts from Br. de Cherge’s words with my reflections.

The Testament of Dom Christian de Cherge, OCSO

When we face an “A-Dieu” …

Should it ever befall me -and it could happen today- that I become a victim of the terrorism that seems now to want 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 could not be a stranger to this brutal departure.

I ask them to pray for me – for how should I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones that have been allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other.

Nor any less value.

In any case, it lacks the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know my complicity in the evil that seems, alas, to prevail over the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.

Brother Christian understood that the world is a violent place. Every day the world weeps with death. People die in senseless disputes, as the result of desperate injustice, and in the face of egregious human failure. Brother Christian believed that, if he died at the hands of terrorists, there would be nothing special about his death. If violent death came to him he knew it would be only one more familiar chapter in a long litany of too much tragedy and brokenness in the human community.

Yesterday’s slaughter in Paris brings violence closer to home for many of us. We have walked those streets that yesterday were bathed in blood. We know people who live in Paris or have recently traveled to France. We might ourselves have been there yesterday enjoying coffee in a charming little Parisian café.

But, as heart-breaking as they are, the deaths in the streets of Paris are no more tragic than the forty-three deaths in Beirut (http://mic.com/articles/128551/terrorist-suicide-bombing-attack-on-beirut-lebanon-kills-43-and-injures-hundreds?utm_source=policymicFB&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=social#.qKGUTZYgj) on Thursday from a suicide bombing, or the 224 Russians killed October 31 in a plane that came down in Egypt.

Everyone who dies is someone’s child, sibling, parent, or friend. Pain is no respecter of geographical boundaries. Death honours no racial distinctions. Even those who died committing the horrendous acts of terror in Paris yesterday will no doubt be mourned by someone.

We are united in the inevitability of death. And, for Brother Christian, when death comes as part of a violent conflict, we are united in our culpability. We all lack “the innocence of childhood.” We are a world community. We share responsibility for the circumstances that unleash the violence that is endemic to the human community.

Retaliation and vengeance are attractive options at times like this. But, looking more deeply for the causes of these tragic deaths, may bring more hopeful ways of stemming the tide of violence than just responding in kind.

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nb: I used the beautiful film “Of Gods And Men” which is based on the story of the Tibihrine monks to reflect on terror back in 2011 when Osama bin Laden was killed. Read here: https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/responding-to-terror/

In that post four years ago, I quoted Rabbi Michael Lerner who wrote:

The task… at this moment is to reaffirm a different consciousness — to remind ourselves that we are inextricably bound to each other and to everyone on the planet.

Kristen-Linley Langdon

Kristen-Linley Langdon

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