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At beatification of Algerian martyrs in Muslim land, the Church won’t be manipulated


Interview with leader of Saints' Congregation on the December 8 ceremony recognizing the monks of 'Of Gods and Men' fame.

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will preside at the beatification of the martyrs of Algeria on December 8 in Oran, Algeria.

These 19 martyrs — 16 French, two Spanish and one Belgian — were killed between 1994 and 1996, during the Algerian civil war between the government and Islamist groups.

Interviewed by I.MEDIA, the prelate said he is delighted by this beatification, which honors the martyrs’ loyalty to the Algerian people.

What does this beatification of the martyrs of Algeria mean for the Church?

Cardinal Becciu: It is about honoring and praising men and women who had the courage to live the Gospel in a radical and total way. Secondly, it is also to recognize that the martyrs of Algeria had the courage to remain faithful to the Church, and to the Algerian people until their death.

It was a martyrdom that none of them had planned but they chose to live by staying on the spot, against all odds.

It strikes me a lot: We think they were there to defend their [religious] community. But it is not so! They simply loved the Algerian land, the people, the people they lived with.

Is there a possibility that Pope Francis could travel to Oran for the beatification?

No, because the Pontiff never travels for beatifications. He presides over the canonizations in Rome. For beatifications, he delegates to his representative. John Paul II used to celebrate almost every beatification in Rome. But with Benedict XVI things changed; the German Pontiff preferred to delegate them. Pope Francis chose to continue this way of doing things.

[Editor’s note: Benedict’s change was to facilitate beatifications taking place in the locale where the newly beatified lived and ministered, thereby allowing the local faithful to celebrate their native saint.]

How will the ceremony be held?

Like any beatification, there will be a Mass, which will begin with a specific ceremony featuring the official proclamation. I will then pronounce the decree of the pope by which he declares their beatification. The Muslim authorities will be present, and they will have a place of honor. I will meet with them privately, as will the political authorities. I will pass on to them from the Church a desire for dialogue and friendship. We are here to serve and love those we meet.

Are not you afraid of being manipulated by the Algerian authorities, while Christians are still stigmatized in the country?

This risk exists, but the Church is not so naive. She will find the way not to be instrumentalized. With the authorities, we will be content to insist on the positive aspects of such an event, with respect.

Do you remember the day you learned about the assassination of the Tibhirine monks?

Yes, it was on May 21 [date of the announcement of their assassination in a statement attributed to the GIA [Armed Islamic Group, ed]. I was at the nunciature in Paris. I remember how shocked the French were with this news. I myself participated in a religious procession in their honor in the streets of Paris.

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