Friday, October 26, 2007

The Cause of Bishop Claverie of Algeria

Until today, I was unfamiliar with the story of this martyr of Algeria. John Allen gives a fascinating account of a timely saint. Here's an excerpt:

In many ways, the late Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran, Algeria, who was assassinated in 1996, and whose cause for sainthood recently opened along with 18 other martyrs of a bloody civil war that left 150,000 Algerians dead, could be a prime candidate for just such a simplification.

Claverie's death was part of the carnage created by the Islamic Salvation Front, a template for radical Islamic movements elsewhere. In that context, Claverie could seem a symbol for Christian martyrdom at the hands of jihadists, a patron saint for Catholic hawks in the "clash of civilizations." This was a man, after all, fully aware of the peril that stalked him, who refused to walk away, saying, "I cannot abandon Algeria to the Islamists."

On the other hand, Claverie was also a man of dialogue down to his bones; at his funeral in 1996, Algerian Muslim mourners described him as "the bishop of the Muslims too." Hence the doves could also stake a claim to his memory, as a sort of spiritual antipode to Islamophobia and the "war on terrorism."

Fortunately, we have a firebreak against such reductionist readings of Claverie's life and death: the powerful new biography A Life Poured Out, written by Fr. Jean-Jacques Pérennès, a personal friend of Claverie as well as a fellow Dominican. The book has already been published in French and Arabic, and is now available in English from Orbis.

In a time when discussion of Christian/Muslim relations is dominated by ideology and abstract theological debate, Claverie represents an utterly different path: a life lived as a "guest in the house of Islam," not blind to the challenges and never fuzzy about his Christian identity, but relentless in his commitment to friendship. Claverie's interest was what he called the "real, living Islam," meaning people rather than theories.

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