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The martyrs of Algeria had already laid down their lives before anyone could take them

AFP Archive Photo
An undated file photo showing six of seven French Trappist Monks who were kidnapped by an Islamic fundamentalist group on the night of March 26 from the monastery in Tibehirine, the Islamic stronghold of Medea some 100km southwest of Algiers. The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) announced 23 May in a communique that it had killed the seven monks. First row: Frere Paul (L), Frere Christophe (C), standing from L to R: Frere docteur Luc Dorchier (2nd), Frere Michel (3rd), Pere Amede (2nd R) et Frere Jean-Pierre (R).

Beatification cause was able to confirm that all were killed because they were Christians, in hatred of the faith

Despite the difficulties, the beatification of the 19 martyrs of Algeria on December 8 in Oran attests that they were all killed due to the “hatred of their behavior,” behavior which was “inspired by their faith,” testified Father Rémi Bazin, an official of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, during a conference in Rome on December 4

During the beatification process of the martyrs of Algeria, 123 witnesses were heard, said the French priest. Among them were two eyewitnesses, 50 laypeople, and 20 Algerians.

Some 1,800 documents were also consulted, he said. During the trial, the difficulty lay in the absence of tangible proof of “material” martyrdom, the priest explained: “Not one murder actually gave rise to a civil trial or even to a police investigation.”

The documentation was nonetheless sufficient to prove that hatred of the faith motivated the murderers: Even without a confession or identification from the perpetrators, it was enough to delve into the context of the time, marked by Islamic extremism, to attest that the martyrs were “killed because they were Christians.” 

To recognize a martyrdom, recalled Father Bazin, the way in which Christians are killed is not taken into account as much as the motive: They must indeed have been killed out of “hatred of their behavior inspired by faith.”

This expression of hatred can be found in the claim texts of the murders (which include the term “crosses” to describe the victims), as well as the way they were singled out.

“Make his death a gift to Christ”

It is also necessary to note among the martyrs a “voluntary acceptance” of death “manifested by an act that intended to make of their death a gift to Christ.”

In the case of the martyrs of Algeria, it was not possible to attest whether they died shouting the name of Christ or forgiving their executioner. Their writings, on the other hand, made it possible to understand the meaning of their deaths, as well as the testimony of the witnesses: “It could thus be observed that they were all fully aware of the danger they were facing,” said Father Bazin.

Nevertheless, it has also been found that the martyrs adopted cautionary measures that show that they were in “full possession of their senses and didn’t have a suicidal attitude.”

Finally, the beatification process brought to light the “spiritual ascent” experienced by all the martyrs until their death, which proves, as the pope declared, that “the murderers did not take their lives because they had already given them in advance.” This is an allusion to John 10:18, where Jesus says of his life: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”

Finally, uniting all the martyrs in one beatification cause, Father Bazin explained, is “habitual practice.” It is common practice to place together Christians of the same geographical area, if they were murdered for the same reasons and in the same period of time. This is the case here, since all were killed in Algeria between 1994 and 1996. 

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