Christian de Chergé
Charles-Marie Christian de Chergé was born on January 18, 1937 in Colmar, a town in Eastern France, of a military family. After spending a part of his childhood in Algeria, where his father was commander of the 67th African Artillery Regiment. After brilliant studies at the Ecole Sainte-Marie, he graduated from high school in 1954. Two years later, he entered the University Seminar of the Catholic Institute of Paris to become a priest.
Christian de Chergé went back to Algeria as a young officer in the French army. Trapped in an ambush, his life was saved thanks to the intervention of a Muslim policeman, which was murdered the next day. De Chergé will forever remember this moment, commenting that “in the blood of that friend, I knew that my calling to follow Christ would have to be lived, sooner or later, in the country in which I had been given the proof the greatest love.”
In 1964, Christian de Chergé was made a priest at the Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris. He chose to enter the monastery of Tibhirine, in Algeria, where he arrives in 1971 after completing his novitiate at the Abbey of Aiguebelle (Drôme). An open and tolerant man, he studied Arabic and Islam at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome, from 1972 to 1974.
As the Father Superior of the Tibhirine community, he worked hard to foster dialogue between Christianity and Islam. In 1979, Christian de Chergé created a Christian and Muslim prayer group, the Lien de Paix (Peace Link), aimed at developing spiritual solidarity between the two religions.
Despite rising violence, terrorism, and the victory of the Islamic Front in the 1991 elections, the Tibhirine monks agreed to stay in Algeria. On December 24, 1993, an armed group entered the monastery a few days after the assassination of twelve Croatian nationals. The group threatened the monks and demanded financial and medical assistance, which the monks refused. That night, aware of the danger to his life, Christian de Chergé wrote his will.
Three years later, in the night of March 26-27, 1996, twenty men broke into the monastery and kidnapped seven monks. Christian de Chergé was among the taken. The Islamic Armed Group (GIA) claimed the kidnapping and executed the hostages two months later, on May 21.
The movie “Of Gods and Men,” directed by Xavier Beauvois in 2010, was inspired from the life of the murdered monks of Tibhirine. Lambert Wilson played the part of Christian de Chergé.
Sometime before his tragic end, Christian de Chergé had written a letter to his family, which was made public on May 29, 1996, in which he explained his faith and his attachment to Algeria. The following is an excerpt: “If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism that now seems to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to Algeria (…) My life is no more valuable than that of others; no less either. In any case, my life does not have the innocence of childhood. I would like, when the time comes, to have this moment of lucidity that would allow me to beg for the forgiveness of God and that of my brothers in mankind, and to forgive any heart that would have hurt me.”
A victim of intolerance and hatred, Christian de Chergé devoted his life to the reconciliation of religions in a message for life and peace. This man of the Church never gave in to the terrorist threat and paid with the price of his life the faith he had in the peaceful coexistence of peoples and religion.