'Algerian Martyrs' to be Beatified


Two OLA Sisters among the 19 missionaries to lose their lives in Algeria between 1994 and 1996.

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Images of the 19 missionaries who lost their lives in Algeria between 1994 and 1996. Picture courtesy of Sr. Mary T. Barron.


Pope Francis has signed a decree recognizing the martyrdom of Monsignor Pierre Claverie, the Trappist Monks of Tibhirine and the eleven other religious martyrs murdered in Algeria between 1994 and 1996, including two OLA Sisters. Pope Francis’ recognition of their martyrdom now paves the way for their beatification

The lives of the 19 religious were taken between 1994 and 1996 – at the height of the Algerian civil war which was waged between government forces and various Islamic rebel groups.

The two OLA Sisters were Sister Angèle-Marie and Sister Bibiane.

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Srs. Angèle-Marie and Bibiane. Image courtesy of Sr. Mary T. Barron.


Denise LeClerq was born on January 8th, 1930 in Gazerau, France. She entered the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles on March 4th, 1959 and received the name Bibiane. After her first vows on March 8th, 1961, she was sent to Algeria to the maternity ward in Constantine, located in the north-east.

A good collaborator, attentive to the needs of others, Sister Bibiane blossomed in the care of newborns and moms. In 1964 she was in Algiers, responsible for the sewing centre, for the craft of embroidery, and a child welfare centre, reserved for young people without studies.

The Sisters received girls from disadvantaged backgrounds and visited families. This allowed Sister Bibiane to discover the extent of the material and moral miseries of the Algerian women. She was a witness to the love of Jesus Christ for them in the "Silence of words" and the actions of her life.

In 1994, it was necessary to take a decision: stay or leave? Sr. Bibiane's answer was clear:

"It was the people themselves who asked for Sisters. Now they're asking us to stay. I am very grieved, I feel helpless in the face of so much suffering, but I know, God loves this people and I have great confidence in Our Lady of Africa. Jesus said: ‘The father will give you everything you ask for in my name’.

"His light helps me to discover wonders that are hidden, amazing solidarity, generosity, superhuman courage, the spirit is at work in their heart. The Word of God helps me to stay tuned to be a glimmer of hope: I choose to stay."

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A map of the northern coastline of Algeria and Morocco. Algiers lies to the north-east and Oran and Hennaya (denoted with the red marker) to the north-west. Image courtesy of Google Maps.


Jeanne Littlejohn was born in Tunis on November 22nd, 1930. In 1957, Jeanne joined the OLAs and received the name Angèle-Marie. She pronounced her first vows two years later and she left for Bouzarea, Algeria where the Sisters had an orphanage and a boarding school for young girls.

She stayed there from 1959 to 1964, in charge of the little children and also an embroidery instructor. In 1964, when the School of Arts in Algiers in Belcourt was opened, she went there as an embroidery instructor. She remained there until she died.

Patient, simple and close to the girls, she wanted to instil in them the love of art, and of work well done; She spoke to them in their own language. Sister Angèle-Marie was deeply attached to Algeria, to its inhabitants, to its mission, sharing with the Algerian people their Joys and sorrows.

When Father Bonamour, parish priest, reminded them of the danger and invited the Sisters to be on the ready, they replied: "We are ready."

On leaving mass in the afternoon of Sunday, September 3rd, 1995, a Sister shared with Sr. Angele-Marie her fear in the face of violence. Angèle-Marie replied: “We must not be afraid. We just have to live the present well. The rest doesn't belong to us.”

Her mission ended in this peace and simplicity. About ten minutes later and one hundred metres from the OLA house in Belcourt, Algiers, Sister Angèle Marie was killed alongside Sister Bibiane.

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A image of the north and west of Africa courtesy of www.countryreports.org.


The following May, seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine, all French natives, were kidnapped and later killed near the city of Médéa. The 2010 award-winning film titled ‘Of Gods and Men’ recounts the lives of the monks and how they had lived in harmony with the largely Muslim population until their untimely deaths.

On August 1st, 1996, Monsignor Pierre Claverie, Bishop of Oran Diocese, was assassinated. Monsignor Claverie was a true believer in the power of dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

The news of the Martyrdom decree was greeted by many including Donegal native Sr. Patricia McMenamin. Sr. Patricia was the Superior General of the OLA Sisters between 1988 and 1998.

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Sr. Patricia McMenamin


"I was delighted to hear the news about the decree. They were wonderfully dedicated and had great courage.

"Algeria is still a special mission for us. I was struck during my visits there by the Sisters' commitment and dedication to God and the people. Inter-religious dialogue is lived out there every day. 

"Like all the OLA Sisters on mission in Algeria, Srs. Bibiane and Angèle-Marie were particularly attentive to the women. At that time, and to this day, libraries were the place to meet the people. The two Sisters gave classes in dress-making and embroidery but it was their love of the people that kept them there.

"I was in Algeria a number of times in the late eighties and early nineties. 

"Sr. Bibiane was seriously dedicated, a great formator of the women. She would encourage them with their own religion.

"Sr. Angèle-Marie had great trust in God. She was gifted with her hands and would have passed this gift onto others.

"Monsignor Claverie was a special man. He had a good sense of humour, was friendly and was very religious. He was a great believer in interfaith-dialogue. It was poignant that he was killed alongside his Muslim friend. I attended his funeral in Orán. A woman told me at his funeral that he had helped her to be a better Muslim."

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Members of the OLA Community in Orán, Algeria.


The first OLAs arrived in Algeria in 1937. There are currently five OLAs living between two communities in Algeria. One is located at the port city of Oran with a second community in the town of Hennaya in north-western Algeria. The Sisters are a Christian presence in the predominantly Muslim country. Arts and crafts workshops along with pastoral support are the main works of the Sisters in Algeria. Christians are unable to practise their faith openly in Algeria and are forbidden from promoting the Christian faith.

Algeria is the tenth largest country in the world and the largest in Africa. Much of the country is covered by the Sahara Desert. Algeria has a population of 40 million people.

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The craftswomen at the Christmas Fair in the Pierre Claverie Centre, Orán.

 

 Links:

  • Click here for more on the work of the OLA Sisters in Algeria
  • Click here for more on the Algerian Martyrs