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Christians in the Muslim World

A Vocation Called Algeria

In this biography of H. E. Msgr. Henri Teissier, Archbishop Emeritus of Algiers since 2008, the author, a journalist for La Croix, presents the interviews that she had with him during her frequent trips to Algeria; in these she has presented the faithful, clear and balanced testimony of a man of the Church celebrated as a promoter of the Islam-Christian dialogue and as a fine analyst of the presence of the contemporary Church in the house of Islam. By means of a chronological account, the writer shows how Msgr. Teissier’s personal path is intrinsically linked to the historical and political evolution of Algeria, a country to which he is so attached that he took up nationality in the very first years of independence, choosing to share his destiny with it. The existential development of a religious community is indirectly described: the Church of Algeria. The work develops in three acts.

 

 

A novice seminarian, Msgr. Teissier discovers a country called Algeria and falls in love with it. The year is 1955 and he has just been ordained priest of the diocese of Algiers, when the Algerian war breaks out, the first act of a future tragedy which will be sealed by the independence of the young Algerian Republic, but a bloody conflict remains with its legacy of personal and collective tragedies: the civilian victims, the forced departure of the French from Algeria and the local Church, which stands powerless before the haemorrhage of its community and the loss of its official authority.

 

 

The second act begins when the young Algerian republic begins to take on its characteristic features: development policies, massive industrialisation and a pan-Arab orientation are the first jolts of a nation still in search of itself. From that moment, and faced with the drastic decrease in the number of followers, the Church of Algeria finds itself forced to reconsider its mission in the new social and political context and to redefine its vocation in a country marching towards the rediscovery of its Arab-Islamic traditions. Appointed bishop of the diocese of Oran, where he will stay from 1972 to 1981, Msgr. Teissier opts for Algeria and for a Church at the service of the Algerian people with tireless, keen and discrete commitment, which is translated into social work that can give relief to the Algerian people in their daily suffering.

 

 

The dark decade of the 90s constitutes the third act of the Algerian plight, which will also remain the most difficult moment for Msgr. Teissier. Not long after being nominated Archbishop of Algiers, he is shocked by what he sees of the uprisings of October 1988 which, as he knows all too well, are only the premonitory signs of the catastrophe to come. While Algeria slides into fundamentalist violence, Msgr. Teissier, despite the threats and risks, refuses to leave the country. Sympathetic towards the Algerians, whose friendship and sincerity he had never doubted, he reasserts his conviction that in the daily tragedy of Algeria the blood of Christians and Muslims is one: the common martyrdom and fate shared by Msgr. Claverie and his chauffeur Mohammed only go to prove this. Refusing to give in to the temptation of confusing the totality of the Algerian people with the extremist hordes spreading terror and whose first victims are Algerian civilians themselves, he takes sides for the reconciliation of the Algerian people and exhorts the different parties to try to find a way to peace.

 

 

At the root of this vocation, one thing is certain: the Algerian people is able, at the moment of trial, ‘to recognise this common humanity in the Christians’ which makes all men brothers. Hence the absolute need to live the evangelical presence during the crisis, in the anguish and not after it. The Algerian people will recognise its own. Since in short ‘the Church has not chosen to be foreign, but Algerian’ and to live in Algeria in its most tragic hour is only a ‘certain way of relating’ every piece of daily life with the episodes of the Gospel, which lets the spiritual sense of what it has lived come out and transforms the circumstances into God’s Word and into an invocation to Him.

 

 

This is a book to read in order to understand how, through the meeting and the presence, though discrete and fragile but always passionate, committed, curious, rich in friendship and moved by the sincere concern about the fate of others, the Church bears witness of this and arouses respect and gratitude.

 

 

Maria D’Agostino

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