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Marist Bulletin - Number 50


Marists return to Algeria

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Allah il baraká! Blessed be God!

Last September Brothers Arturo Chávez, 74, Josep María Rius, 50, and Alex Gómez, 35, opened a new Chapter in the history of our Marist mission in Algeria. Here they describe for us what has led to this refounding and how their new community is doing.

Heirs to a living history
The presence of the Marist brothers in Algeria came to an abrupt halt on May 8, 1994 with the tragic death of Brother Henri Vergès. We had been in the country since 1891, when the Province of Aubenas founded three schools: Mascara, Sétif and Aïn-Témouchent (Orán). As the years went by, we established more and more schools, so that by 1902 the Marist Sector of Algeria numbered 107 brothers teaching in 17 schools.
Anticlerical laws coming out of France in 1903, prohibiting religious congregations from teaching, led to a sharp decline in the number of our brothers in Algeria, but various circumstances helped us to maintain our presence there.
By the 1970s the brothers were working in only one school, St. Bonaventure secondary school in Algiers. Brother Henri Vergès served as its Headmaster until 1976, when the country nationalized all its educational institutions. Brother Henri, sometimes together with other brothers and sometimes by himself, continued our Marist presence in the country until his death.
Brother Benito Arbués, Superior General, cherished the hope that the brothers would one day return to Algeria. After being in contact several times with Archbishop Henri Teissier of Algiers, he asked the Provincials of France and Catalunya to consider the possibility of reestablishing Marist life in Algeria. They in turn passed on this hope and consulted with the brothers in their Provinces, asking for volunteers and wanting to know their motivation. At that time plans were already being made to restructure Provinces throughout Europe, and in particular to merge the Provinces of France and Catalunya.

Preparing to return
An announcement was made in mid-April 2001 that Brothers Josep María Rius and Alejandro Gómez from the Province of Catalunya would form part of the community soon to be opened in Algeria
On September 8, 2001, during the 20th General Chapter, Brother Benito formally announced the decision of the Provinces of France and Catalunya to reestablish our Marist presence en Algeria. He personally sent Brother Arturo Chávez from the Province of Central Mexico to become a member of the community.
Brother Emili Turú, Provincial de Catalunya at the time, was put in charge planning for all this, and later, Brother Maurice Goutagny, Provincial of the hermitage.
Brothers Xema y Alex spent the 2001-2002 academic year in Belgium and Barcelona, taking intensive courses in French and Arabic.
In March 2002, Brother Maurice Goutagny together with Brother Alex Gómez traveled to Algeria to establish direct links with the Algerian church, and in particular with its leaders. They also attended the annual meeting of its bishops and major superiors. Refounding was set for the upcoming 2002-03 school year, and three brothers were to be sent for a future work in keeping with our Marist charism.
The missioning ceremony for Brothers Xema, Alex, and Arturo was a powerful and emotional time. It took place during the Interprovincial Assembly of the Provinces of France and Catalunya held in Francheville from July 25th to the 28th. The Provincials, Maurice Goutagny, André Déculty, and Xavier Barceló, formally sent the three brothers on mission and presented them with an icon of St. Marcellin, on the back of which were the signatures of all the brothers present at the Assembly.
We agreed among ourselves to set September 8th, dedicated to the memory of Mary’s Birthday, as our time for arriving in Algiers. In doing this we wanted to make clear our desire to place the refounding of our Marist presence in Algeria under the protection of our Good Mother.

Algiers, our new home
We have been warmly welcomed. We live at the Centre de Études Diocésain and are spending the current school year there. Our immediate aim is to follow a process of discernment that will enable us to decide on our definitive plans for next year. In other words, enlightened by the Gospel and our Marist charism, we’re trying to figure out where to establish our Marist presence in this country steeped in the religion and culture of Islam. We are taking the necessary steps to help us reach this objective. We can sum up our life today in four expressions: getting acquainted, entering into the culture, studying, and praying – all this within the framework of our Marist community life.
The Centre de Études Diocésain formerly served as a convent for retired members of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine. Currently it contains two libraries and has rooms for people passing through. In addition, there are people here offering classes in the classical Arabic dialect and Algerian, and others who are serving the Algerian church in one way or another.
Slowly but surely we’re becoming more familiar with the local church and the situation in the country. Algeria has four dioceses: Algiers, Oran, Constantine, and Laghouat. Covering enormous stretches of territory, but containing a very small number of Christians and pastoral ministers. Priests, brothers and sisters are few, but even so, they’re more numerous than the Algerian laity. The Church is poor in resources, personnel, and power. Interestingly there are quite a number of university students who come from sub-Saharan Africa who receive pastoral care.
We have already visited the library in the Casbah, where Brother Henri Vergès lived and worked. On November 1st, we went to pray in the cemetery of El Harrach where he awaits the resurrection.
At the end of November we took a week off from our course in Arabic to learn more about the work going on in the Diocese of Oran. After Christmas we spent four or five days visiting the Diocese of Constantine. In March, God willing (In sha Allah, which in Spanish became ojalá) we intend to visit the Diocese of Laghouat, located in southern Algeria in the Sahara.
The three of us, Xema, Alex, and Arturo, are feeling very much in union with our families and the entire Marist family. We think of ourselves as brothers that you have sent to work for the Kingdom of God, carrying forward the enduring charism of our Father Marcellin in the heartland of Islam here in Algeria.

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