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A remarkable story brought into focus,
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This review is from: Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria (Paperback)
Recently I saw the award winning film 'Of Gods and Men', the very moving story of the ministry and subsequent martyrdom of a group of Trappist monks from their monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria. Whilst the film stands as a wonderful testament to their devout calling the men had to reconcile their Christian faith amongst the largely Muslim community through their regime of prayer and pastoral care, I wanted to know about the background to the monastic establishment and religious history of that region of Algeria. The film conveys in a beautifully understated way the relations between the monks, their individual characteristics and eventually their total abandonment to the Will of God by accepting their sacrifice.
The book by John W Kiser, is a very helpful presentation of both the reason for such a monastic establishment in Algeria, following in the footsteps of religious pioneers such as Charles de Foucauld and Carlo Carretto; the politics of Algeria and its terrible betrayal by the French occupation and finally, within the books' timescape the struggle between Islamic fundamentalists/terrorists and Christianity.
The story of the Cistercian/Trappist movement seeing North Africa as a field of mission is as medieval in concept as any religious enterprise and the brave audacity in establishing the monastery at Tibhirine was a success in part. Under the leadership of Fr Christian, who perhaps selfishly, was creating a very personal ministry to reconcile Christianity with Islam and very much against the odds; that he and the community achieved such a credible role with the villages must be seen as a great act of faith.
Although the author, Kiser, writes much to explain and disseminate the complex politics between France and Algeria, as well as the internal struggles, he does at least convey that the twentieth century history of Algeria is that of a country and peoples betrayed, persecuted and slaughtered by both warring political and terrorist factions with religious faith and intolerance being a convenient excuse.
As the book progresses we are given insights into the lives of the various monks before they were received into holy orders and their responsibilities within the monastery - they seemed, for the most part, fragile human beings, riddled with insecurities, funny, endearing, grouchy and impatient. Yet their committment to the people they served, almost exclusively Muslims, could not be questioned - the strength of their religious conviction towers above any of the surrounding Atlas Mountains.
When the story of their abduction and subsequent deaths is told I wept unashamedly that such good men were killed for no good reason - another example of man's inhumanity to man.
This becomes an important book for presenting the story of one religious faith asserting a cruel power over another, and yet for the religious faith of one small community proving that love for one another is ultimately the more powerful and enduring legacy.