Opening of the centenary of the death of Blessed Charles de Foucauld
NAZARETH – Saturday October 31, in Nazareth, marks the start of the centenary of the death of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1 December 1916) – an occasion to explore again the glimmering life and the touching spirituality of a man who gave himself up to Jesus Christ and to others. Friar Marco Cosini, JC, Lessor Friar of Jesus Caritas, comes back on the life of Charles de Foucauld in Nazareth, and highlights the different events which will mark the centenary year. Interview.
Charles de Foucauld lived in Palestine and in Syria. He has loved and known the Middle East, spoke Arabic and Hebrew, prayed using an Arabic-speaking Gospel. Today Christians of the Middle East are targeted. In this framework what could Christians of the East learn about the life of Charles de Foucauld? How could his life inspire them in the distresses they live at present?
The question which you have raised is a delicate one. We, Christians of the Middle East, live through a very difficult period, but cannot omit the fact that as immigrant and religious people, we are in a privileged position compared to Arab Christians of the Holy Land and neighboring countries.
Charles de Foucauld had at first lived in what was then Syria (in Akbès, the Trappist Monastery of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart). He then proceeded to the Holy Land, in Nazareth. Over here, as we know, he deepened the spirituality which will guide his human and spiritual life: the spirituality of Nazareth. This spirituality is focused on the Mystery of Incarnation where Our Lord becomes man and takes our flesh in his Son “our beloved brother and Lord Jesus”. From here springs forth the reflection on Jesus’s hidden life during the first thirty years of his life in Nazareth, where he lived like any other human being. The spirituality of Brother Charles tends to recognize the presence of God in the daily life, at any moment and anywhere, for Jesus himself led this daily life. It is the mystery of the Incarnation which opens out in space and in time through the lives of Jesus disciples. This mystery resides in what our daily life offers, among others the relations with those who surround us: Jews, Muslims, atheists. When Charles de Foucauld arrived in the desert he liked to call his house “brotherhood”: a place where everybody could feel at home, and where everybody, whether Muslim, Christian, Jew or atheist, could consider him as a brother, “the universal brother”. I believe that this is the first message which Christians of this land should keep of Brother Charles testimony.
The other message which we keep is that of his stay in Syria. At that time, the tragic Armenian genocide had already started. Charles de Foucauld reported with precision the number of martyrs who had accompanied his stay on Syrian territory. He wanted himself to be martyr. Today, in the Middle East, the martyr is part of the Christian’s livelihood. If we cannot tolerate that such a large number of people die as martyrs, perhaps because of the indifference of Western powers, and not only that, maybe we can hold the strong love of Charles de Foucauld for his Lord Jesus. It is the road which we, Christians, must follow, despite the hardships – this road which places us in front of the relationship which Jesus has set with His disciples. A relationship of deep love, without limit, which in its uttermost shape cannot exclude the outlook of a martyr.
In this year of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, how does Charles de Foucauld inspire us in order to better live with peoples of other religions, namely Muslims, here in the Holy Land?
As I have mentioned before, the key-word here seems to be “brotherhood”. Its roots are found not only in the Christian faith but goes beyond, and reach the deepest dimensions of the human being. We are “brothers by birth”, meaning that of our simple humanity comes out the necessity to accept the other, of respect, of friendship, of brotherhood. We live in this world as creatures of God, children of one same Father marked by links of brotherhood as human beings. The reflection on man, on our responsibility towards everybody else for as long as we live on earth, should accompany our trip as a people in the midst of others – without omitting the common roots of the major religions in the Holy Land, and therefore the many possible points of convergence. It is not easy to develop this sensitivity and to face the daily challenges which go beyond flowery theories. We are perfectly aware of the hardships, especially those of our Christian brothers on this Land who meet on a daily basis with their brothers and sisters of other religions.
We often hear the testimony of persons who use the language of violence as one language to communicate with others. The extent of the brotherhood which we would like to live should match with a straightforward research of the “good” and the “well being” of others.
How does the community Jesus Caritas ”imitate the hidden life of the humble and poor worker of Nazareth“ ?
The community of the Lessor Brothers of Jesus Caritas is just a tiny drop of water in the ocean of the Christian presence in the Middle East. That inspires us to meditate on the small stature of our work. We do not pretend to change the whole world, but we live in the hope to reach a life true to the Gospel. That’s our objective; we want to practice and live day after day the teachings of the Gospel. We do it through a life of great simplicity, brotherly fellowship, prayer, work, in short true to all components which have characterized the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth. More than in our sphere of work, our presence here takes its meaning in the details of daily life, in the friendly sharing between brothers and sisters which the Lord grants us to live every day. We give special attention to the poor who knock on our door, to pilgrims requesting answers or wishing to meet God, or with the poor with whom we have decided to share our lives in a particular way. We live in the house where Charles de Foucauld had lived. Since several years, we work jointly with the Institute of Protection of Education of Sefforis, dedicated to the children with major family problems. We work as well at the Holy Family Hospital in Nazareth. We do not do that in a spirit of specialist but rather as young brothers who seek to share an experience of poor among poor.
How has the town of Nazareth kept the trace and memory of Charles de Foucauld? What does Charles de Foucauld represent for Christians and Muslims of Nazareth?
The event of the first centenary of the death of Brother Charles calls on us to ponder on this subject. We have compiled many testimonies of respect, admiration and devotion towards this unique person. We can say that for Christians of Nazareth, Charles de Foucauld is a respectful co-citizen of whom they are proud. However, we have noticed a weakened memory of Charles de Foucauld among the younger generations: few young Christians know about his life, many do not even know where he has lived. That’s why we have felt the urgent need to send forth the voice of the Blessed Charles de Foucauld through his “life of Nazareth”, taking advantage of the centenary.
Among Muslims very few know about this figure. However, thanks to the presence of the Lessor Sisters of Jesus, bonds of friendship with Muslims were established throughout the year. A friendship and brotherhood knowing no hurdles and which spread out through simple daily gestures: it is the message of Charles de Fouauld, also for persons belonging to other denominations.
What are the events which will mark this year the centenary of death of Charles de Foucauld?
The year of the death centenary of Charles de Foucauld will witness many events meant to share his message with as many people as possible. We thought of starting this year with an evening of music and prayer while listening to the reflections of Charles de Foucauld during his retreat in Nazareth between the 5th and 15th November 1897. The opening date of the year is 31 October, very close to the conversion of Charles of Jesus, end October 1886.
We seek to bring a particular attention to the young. We have invited the Christian schools to come and visit the house of Brother Charles and have organized activities specially organized for their sake. This initiative will start in the forthcoming weeks.
We are working as well on a musical project in Arabic on the life of the Blessed. This initiative is difficult to launch and we are working on it since a long time with the help of some friends from Nazareth.
In March there will be a meeting for all inhabitants of Nazareth, close to the date commemorating the arrival of Brother Charles in Nazareth on 5 March 1897. We want to gather both Christians and others from other religions, and answer thereby the message of Charles de Foucauld.
Two initiatives are centered around the prayer: 24 hours of adoration for peace, feast day of Brother Charles, on December 1, 2015, and a concluding mass on his memory will be celebrated in Nazareth on December 1, 2016.
All are invited to participate at these events. We trust in the prayers of each round the different events which will take place this year. I implore the blessing of our Lord in particular on the inhabitants of this Land.
Information gathered by Calixte Des Lauriers