On 8 December 2018, two of our Sisters were Beatified, together with 17 other Martyrs who lost their lives during the Algerian civil war, between 1994 and 1996.
Sr Bibiane OLA (Denise LeClerq, aged 65) and Sr Angèle-Marie OLA (Jeanne Littlejohn, aged 62) were both shot in the back on their way home from Mass, just a hundred meters from their home in Belcourt, Algiers.
Sr Patricia McMenamin was Superior General of the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles at the time of the Sisters’ murder, and also attended the Beautification ceremony took place at the Basilica di Notre Dame of the Holy Cross, in Oran, Algeria and was the first such event in a Muslim country.
Below, Sr Patricia shares some of her memories of the time….
Our Congregation of Our Lady of Apostles was present in Algeria from the early 1950s. The Sisters were involved especially with the women and young girls.
From 1964 our two Sisters Angele Marie and Bibiane lived in Oran – the second city in the north of Algeria on the Mediterranean. Their residence in Belcourt was in a very poor area of the city. Their living quarters and the classrooms were on a second floor of an apartment. They formed the women and girls in sewing and embroidery, empowering them to make a living. Their embroidery was renowned even outside Algeria. The Sisters were also involved in giving medical help to the housebound in need. They were warned during those years not to go out without informing the police for protection…but one Italian Sister was known to slip out quite often without lifting the phone!!
I visited the Sisters a number of times and once during the night awoke to the sound of gun-fire just below in the street. It lasted perhaps half an hour but for me that was quite long enough! During breakfast I proposed to the Sisters that they leave Algeria, at least for a short break. At all times they knew they could leave, but assured me saying, “they will never touch us – they know us. Alas!
Bishop Claverie was a dear friend to all of the personnel, and also to the OLA Sisters. Once while I was there he drove me from Oran to Mascara, another mission. I quietly asked him if at any time he experienced fear, he replied that he did before going out, but “once on the road I was OK.” God was ever present to him of course. He was a friend to many. One Muslim lady gave a testimony at his funeral saying that he helped her to be a better Muslim. The fact that he was killed on arrival home one night with his Muslim friend was also significant.
Our presence continues in Hennaya – one of the older missions. There is a library in the town and Sisters have always assisted there, meeting many young African students who attend the Universities in Algeria. The first murders took place in one such library in Algiers – in fact, it was the final Sunday of the first African Synod in Rome – significant too I think.
The film “OF GODS AND MEN” is well worth seeing – it is the story of the Cistercian Monks and their Monastery where they gave great help to the village around them. Brother Luc was a doctor and took care of all – Christian and Muslim alike. They often had visitors of all sorts… they knew that at any moment anything could happen.
I will end with a quotation from Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, a White Father, from the book “Christian Martyrs for a Muslim People” by Martin Mc Gee OSB.
These nineteen lives given, because they were nineteen lives shared, bear a message that carries far beyond their country of adoption and death. They show how the Gospel can be preached in daily life. They show how a respectful dialogue or perhaps better, a true encounter enables the Gospel to transcend boundaries. They show how the Church, in humble service and stripped of power, can be a sure sign of God’s love, a sign that indeed God is love. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant.” (Deus Caritas Est. 1)
One local poet wrote a poem about our two Sisters. The theme was their dedication to the poor, his appreciation of their service to those most in need. The poem ended with:
Two doves took flight, do not cry, do not be frightened, do not be alarmed, because you are witnesses of the Supreme God, of obedience to the One who said “I am the Way, the Truth, I am the life.”
Look, see how they fell, one on the other, forming a cross.
In the sky with their souls, they embroidered the word, “LOVE”