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Diocesan tribunal’s work on our nineteen martyrs

08/12/2008: Algeria

I am just back from a ten day visit in Algeria where I was hosted by the community that resides at the Diocesan Center. There I was given a very warm welcome and a place in which to do my work. The Center is also the meeting place where several local communities gather to attend Mass – communities which, though small, share a strong sense of community.

Thus, I was in Algeria from November 20 to 29, 2008. The purpose of the visit was to check on the status of the diocesan tribunal’s work on our nineteen martyrs, and to see whether the procedures and documentation required by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has been properly observed.

The staff of the diocesan tribunal deserves our gratitude in view of the quantity and quality of the work that they have been doing. On the tribunal are found three per-manent members: Father Dominique Motte, the Judge appointed to the Cause; Father Jean Pierre Henri, Justice Advocate; Sister Françoise Dillies, Official Secretary. From time to time Bishop Tessier, or Father Miguel Larburu or Father René You stand in as judge. In addition, since the Official Secretary does not change, several secretaries take turns at typing the witnesses’ testimony on computers.

Up to now the tribunal has received the testimony of 110 people. The tribunal has carried on its work in Algeria, France, Spain and Rome. Approximately thirty or so witnesses remain to be heard.

The bulk of the work is now no longer in the hands of the diocesan tribunal. Rather the work has passed to the theologian-critics who must read the martyrs’ writings, a process that allows for elaborating a spiritual portrait of the martyrs. Along with this work goes that of the historians who have to examine the writings and private documents of the martyrs, to declare on the authenticity of the pieces and from them to draw up the martyrs’ portrait from the human side.

Each of the martyrs in the group is not attested by the same number of witnesses. Bishop Pierre Claverie is the one with the largest number, twenty-seven. He is followed by the Trappist monks with twenty. The other martyrs have lower numbers, normally around ten. However, the taking of testimony is not yet completed.

You may know already that the Alger diocese has a new Archbishop, Ghaleb Bader who comes from Jordan. He granted me an hour’s interview in the course of which he confirmed that the martyrs’ cause will go forward and that those in charge of the cause will remain in office.

On the whole, the witnesses’ testimony enables one to situate the martyrs’ spiritual per-sonality in a clear light. The physical aspect of the martyrdom also appears to have been fully demonstrated. As regards the formal aspects of the martyrdom, the personal disposition of each martyr is also manifest. The disposition includes such elements as: being willing to live in harsh situations where one’s life in is danger; faithfulness to the mission; love of the Algerian people and their culture. The formal aspect of the martyrdom also contains a weak point: showing who the murderers were, and what their motives were. In addition, even if the motives are sometimes clear, finding the murderers is almost impossible.

Reading the reports of the witnesses sometimes brings with it intense emotional responses, especially when the reports speak of the deep love which the ensemble of martyrs shared for the Algerian people, who in their turn knew many of the victims among whom one may count several of great moral stature. The deep love which the martyrs held for the Algerian people reveals a reciprocal love which was very strong and was often clearly perceived on both sides,

Tomorrow the factual report given above will be followed by some reflections on the Cause.

At this morning’s Mass, the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm was, « Maranatha, come Lord Jesus ! »

It is my wish that all who read the above message may make the journey to Christmas with Mary as our companion. We bear Christ’s image in our hearts, but sometimes the image is tarnished because of our limitations and failings. May Christ brighten his image in us as we make our way to that birth which brings with it the greatest bright-ness of all.

Br. Giovanni Maria Bigotto

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