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on 7 April 2017
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on 29 October 2012
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.
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on 19 February 2011
My interest in the monks of Tibhirine was triggered on seeing the film "Of Gods and of men". I wanted to gain a wider understanding of these men, of their mission as they perceived it, and indeed as it was perceived by those living around them. This book sets out the historical context of the arrival of the monks in Algeria in the mid 19th century and the co-existence of these Christian communities in the Muslim world. It is spiritually inspirational in drawing together the common aspects of Islam and Christianity and sets a challenge to Christians and Muslims alike, that in truly embracing our core beliefs, neither can justify hostility to the other. It sets us all a challenge to move closer to each other lead by the example of Christian de Chergé and his brothers.
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on 19 September 2012
I loved this book. I learnt quite a bit about Algeria, but more importantly, I learnt a lot about the life of a monk and the beauty and the good of such a life. Completely inspired by their solidarity with the local people and their simple lives of love and faith and service. Highly recommended if you want to re-focus on what's important or just hear about ordinary people choosing extraordinary love. If only more of us responded to the challenges of our current times in this way.
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on 2 January 2013
This book is remarkably well researched. I bought it as part of the research for an essay on Algeria, and it was of limited use to that essay, but it was still very interesting and is well worth reading.

The story is about a groups of monks (I think 7 people in all) - it talks about their personal history, their decisions to join the brotherhood, the conflict in Algeria and the murder of the monks.

Excuse such a limited review, it's been a while now sinse I read the book.
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on 10 December 2010
The author writes: "The monks were not martyrs to their faith. They did not die because they wre Christians. The died because they wouldn't leave their Muslim friends." Uh? If they had been Muslims would they have died? They lived a Christian ideal, which is why they stayed. They died for it.
He admits to be contrarian. He'd do better to be fair.
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