One of my favourite movies of the decade 2000 to 2010 was the French film Of God’s and Men. It was a profound and deeply movie film, the story of the Cistercian Monks of Notre-Dame de l’Atlas monastery in the Atlas Mountains near Tibhirine south west of Algiers in northern Algeria.
Christian de Chergé, a Catholic Priest, was the Abbot of the Monastery and is the focus of a recently published book Christian de Chergé: A Theology of Hope.
Englewood Review of Books recently published a review of the book, and I must say it sounds fascinating. Here are a couple of excerpts:
“…From his earliest days in Algeria, interfaith concerns captured de Chergé’s heart and mind. In 1961, for example, local militants murdered de Chergé’s friend, Mohammed, for physically protecting de Chergé. This Christ-like act by a Muslim “elder brother” simultaneously raised questions for de Chergé about Islam’s place in God’s plan, and clarified his vocation. “Dialogue with Islam,” Salenson notes, “would be part and parcel of de Chergé’s monastic vocation, a vocation he received through Mohammed” (27). Later, a Muslim guest to the monastery entered in the darkened church after Compline, humbly requesting de Chergé to pray for him. De Chergé responded with his own invitation: “Teach us to pray together.” From that point forward, de Chergé’s purpose in Muslim Algeria was “to be someone ‘praying among others who pray’” (30), which came to mean an “incarnated communion of saints”—Muslims and Christians—“learning to pray together” (189). Abandoning his presumptions about Islam’s place in God’s plan and re-envisioning dialogue as something other than “narrow-minded jousting,” he launched the Ribat es Salam (Bond of Peace). In other words, instead of competing against Islam, de Chergé grew to appreciate a single faith—this communion of saints—under one merciful God, even to the point that he understood Mohammed as “a prophet authentically inspired by the Spirit of the One and Living God” (45). Utilizing a classic monastic image, de Chergé pictured a ladder “composed of the two religious traditions, Islam and Christianity” (129), where “both parties, by climbing similar rungs, allow themselves to be converted toward the One God” (63).
The intrepid de Chergé pursued the consequences of such beliefs. He warned Christians, for example, against presuming to have the person and work of Christ figured out, i.e., as if all that Christians needed to know about Christ could be known exclusively from Christian texts and traditions. Christians will know Christ better, de Chergé insisted, to the extent that they hear Muslims teach Christ from the Quran and Islamic traditions. “In order to enter in truth into dialogue,” de Chergé counseled, “we will have to accept, in the name of Christ, that Islam has something to tell us on behalf of Christ” (93). Stated differently, Christians must pursue interfaith dialogue because none has a monopoly on the truth, and because such an encounter may provide an “Emmaus Road experience” where Muslims are Christ to, and for, Christians. “True dialogue then becomes the requirement for each participant” …”
You’ll find the full review here. Use the site’s “search feature” and type in “Christian de Chergé”. My sense is that the riches of this book go beyond interfaith dialogue and will help us understand how to be in conversation, in relationship with the other who is not like us.
You’ll find de Chergé’s last “letter” here. It’s an incredibly grace-filled and moving letter – the heart of the Jesus-following way beautifully expressed. The text was opened on the feast of Pentecost, 26 May, shortly after the monks were killed.