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Charles de Foucauld, a man who found God in the desert, to be canonized a saint

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John Burger - published on 05/27/20 - updated on 05/27/20

The Vatican announced the canonization of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, whose adventurous life included a youthful wandering away from the faith.

There are both very surprising aspects of the life of Charles de Foucauld and elements that some would consider very ordinary. Among the extraordinary might be listed the fact that he came from nobility and led quite an adventurous life. The ordinary might include Charles’ youthful wandering away from the faith and his eventual return.

All that really matters, though, is that he has now transcended the accidents of his life and the times in which he lived and come to an intimate knowledge of the One who gave him that life. The Church he loved and served is about to confirm that. The Vatican announced today that Blessed Charles de Foucauld will become a canonized saint.

At his beatification in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said that as a priest, Foucauld “put the Eucharist and the Gospel at the center of his life.”

“He discovered that Jesus — who came to unite Himself to us in our humanity — invites us to that universal brotherhood which he later experienced in the Sahara, and to that love of which Christ set us the example,” Benedict said.

Born in Strasbourg, France, on September 15, 1858, Charles de Foucauld was orphaned at the age of six, according to an official biography on the Vatican’s website. Charles and his sister, Marie, were reared by their grandfather, in whose footsteps he followed by taking up a military career.

As an adolescent, Charles lost his faith. At military school, he led a riotous life, indulging in unruly and eccentric behavior, according to the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests, which was founded on the inspiration of Foucauld’s life and work. On one occasion, he left his post while on sentinel duty, dressing up as a beggar.

After two years at military school, he became an officer, at age 20. His grandfather had just died, and Charles inherited all his wealth. He squandered it, living the high life. In 1879, while stationed in Pont-à-Mousson, he was seen with a woman of ill-repute named Mimi. The following year, his regiment was sent to Algeria, and he took Mimi with him, passing her off as his wife. When the lie was uncovered, the army ordered him to send her back. Charles refused, preferring to be suspended and removed from duty. He went home to France and settled in Evian.

But when he heard that his regiment was involved in a dangerous operation in Tunisia in 1881, he left Mimi and asked to be reinstated. Joining a new regiment in the south Oran area, he proved to be an excellent officer, praised by his superiors as well as by the lower ranks.

Fascinated by northern Africa, he resigned from the Army and settled in Algiers in order to prepare for an exploration of Morocco. It was work for which the French Geographical Society eventually would give him a gold medal. He learned Arabic and Hebrew. Between June 1883 and the following May, he travelled across Morocco secretly, disguised as a rabbi. Though he fell into dangerous situations several times, he was impressed by the faith and devotion of Muslims.

After exploring the oases of Southern Algeria and Tunisia, he returned to France and saw his family in 1886. He questioned himself on the inner life and spirituality. He went into churches, without any faith, and repeated the prayer: “My God, if you exist, let me know you,” according to the Jesus Caritas site.

The warm, respectful welcome he received from his deeply Christian family encouraged him in his search, and under the guidance of a priest he returned to the faith and the sacraments. He was 28.

As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone,” he wrote.

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