On Saturday 8 December OLA Ireland hosted an African Artefacts Exhibition at Ardfoyle Convent, Ballintemple to mark the beatification of OLA Sisters Angèle-Marie Littlejohn and Bibiane Leclercq. Our sisters were beatified in Algeria on Saturday together with 17 others who were martyred during the Algerian Civil War between 1994 -1996.
Sr Kathleen McGarvey OLA, Provincial Leader, gave an opening address (see below) at the Mass in Ardfoyle celebrating the Immaculate Conception in union with the Beatification of the Algerian Martyrs, after which the exhibition was opened.
The exhibition displayed a collection of the artwork belonging to the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (Irish Province) at Ardfoyle Convent, collected between 1925 and 2000. The artworks were collated and described by Fr Pierre Boutin SMA in May 2017.
A number of visitors attended the exhibition over the two days and the Sisters were available to interact with members of the public and answer questions relating to the artefacts and to their mission in Africa.
The Pope’s Message
A message from Pope Francis that was read out at the beatification Mass that took place in Oran, Algeria, stated: “Commemorating the death in Algeria of these nineteen Christian victims, the Catholics of Algeria and of the world wish to celebrate these martyrs faithful to God’s project for Peace that inspires all hearts. At the same time they wish to include in their prayers all the sons and daughters of Algeria who have like them, been victims of the same violence for living with fidelity and respect for others, their duty as believers and citizens in this blessed land”.
The beatification event is believed to be unprecedented in Algeria and according to Agenzia Fides, the Pope expressed his wish that these celebrations may help “heal the wounds of the past and create a new dynamic of encounter and coexistence in the footsteps of our Blessed martyrs ”. Thanking the President and the authorities of Algeria for facilitating the beatification on Algerian soil of these “martyrs of the greatest love”, the Pope expresses his affection for the Algerian people, “who suffered greatly during the crisis of society in the latter years of the last century”.
Pope Francis quoted the “great message of love” bequeathed by one of the world’s best known spiritual teachers of this land, Saint Augustine of Hippo: “By beatifying our nineteen brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said, “the Church wishes to bear witness to her desire to continue to work for dialogue, harmony and friendship. We believe,” he concluded, “that this event, unprecedented in this country, will draw in the Algerian sky a great sign of brotherhood addressed to the whole world”.
Kathleen McGarvey’s Address
Welcome address, Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in union with the Beatification of the Algerian Martyrs
Ardfoyle, 8th December 2018
Kathleen McGarvey OLA, Provincial Leader
Good morning and welcome. Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today too, two OLA Sisters, Sister Bibiane (Denise Leclerq) and Sister Angèle- Marie (Jeanne Littlejohn) are to be beatified together with 17 other missionaries who were killed in Algeria between 1994 and 1996 during the civil war. The ceremony of beatification will take place at 12 noon today (that is 1pm in Algeria), at the Shrine of the Holy Cross in Oran, Algeria.
On the 3rd September 1995, Sister Bibiane and Sister Angèle-Marie gave the total ‘gift of self’ to the missions, as they were shot on their way home from Mass. Our Sisters, and the other 17 to be beatified, were missionaries who freely chose to remain in a very violent situation so as to be close to the people among whom they had been sent and to be open to whatever was God’s will for their lives. It is very appropriate that their beatification ceremony is taking place on this feast of the Immaculate Conception which is a day when we celebrate Mary, full of grace, a woman who put her life wholly in God’s hands and was always free and open to God’s will so as to be an instrument of God’s love to the world.
The civil war in Algeria actually lasted over ten years, beginning in 1991 and not ending until 2000. Over 200,000 people lost their lives in that war. Most of those who died were local people, mainly Muslims. It was a war between the Algerian government and various Islamic rebel groups. Apart from Muslims who didn’t support the rebel groups and their ideologies, many foreigners were targeted, including religious, missionaries and journalists. The 19 who are to be beatified today are being honored not because they were killed but because they were missionaries who chose to stay in that troubled and violent environment, to remain close to the people to whom they had been sent, and to accept God’s will whatever that would be.
Sr. Bibiane said: ‘I choose to stay to respond to the trust shown to us and to be a glimmer of hope in this land of Algeria”. Sr. Angèle Marie said, we must not be afraid; we only have to live well in the present moment. The rest does not belong to us’.
Today the universal Church celebrates their heroic testimony and fidelity. As Pope Francis said: ‘their beatification will be for the Church and for the world, an impetus and a call to build together a world of peace and fraternity’. As we know, this is indeed a much needed message in today’s broken and divided world.
Sister Angèle-Marie was born in Tunis and made her first vows in France in September 1959. She was sent to Algeria where she remained working in various apostolates with the orphans, the sick, women, poor children, all of whom she loved and served with great dedication until she met her death.
Sister Bibiane from France made her first vows in March 1961 after which she was sent to Algeria to the maternity ward in Constantine. She later worked with the local women, teaching embroidery and sewing and working closely with the poor. When asked in 1994 whether they would return home or stay, Sr Bibiane said “I am convinced that our presence here, in this poor area, has always been very important. Presently, I feel powerless before so much suffering but I know God loves these people and I have great confidence in Mary, Our Lady of Africa. God’s light helps me to discover marvels that are hidden, surprising solidarities, superhuman courage; the Word of God helps me to stay attentive and to be a ray of hope.”
Our two Sisters have left us a legacy of love for Muslims, who unfortunately are today given such bad press globally, and for people of all faiths and cultures; they have left us a heroic testimony of faith, of audacity, and of apostolic zeal.
To honour today these 19 witnesses in Algeria is to show our solidarity with all missionaries and with all people of whatever faith who stand for justice and who seek to remain open to God’s will. It is also to show our solidarity with all the 200,000 victims of the civil war in Algeria, with the people of Algeria who continue to suffer insecurity and fear, and with all the innocent victims who are dying today in Syria, Yemen, Nigeria and in so many other countries of Africa and of the world.
Today’s celebration is also an occasion to renew our trust in God’s will, especially in the midst of insecurities and uncertainties in our own lives. And of course it is an occasion for us to pray to be, in whatever way we can, instruments of God’s grace. Our world today is very troubled and surely needs, maybe more than ever, people who are instruments of peace, of reconciliation and of dialogue. We all as OLAs have given our lives to God. May we give it anew every day in faith, love and audacity.
We remember in our prayers in a very special way our own SMA Father, Luigi Macalli, kidnapped in Niger over two months ago and who is still held in captivity. May God grant him the strength he needs and, if it is God’s will, may he be returned safely to his family.
After this Mass, we are all invited to go to the Hall to visit an Exhibition which our Justice officer, John, our Communications officer Michelle, and our Sisters of the MVA team have planned and prepared. I know Janet and Sandra were very busy there yesterday as well. It gives some information about the Sisters and others who are to be beatified and also about the OLA mission in the world today. They have prepared an exhibition of African artefacts that OLAs have collected over the years, most of them pieces of African art that our Sisters brought back with them from their time on mission in Africa. It is an exhibition of African culture and beauty and life. Africa is often known only for its war and hunger. This exhibition of its art is an opportunity for us to thank God for the gift of our missionary vocation and also to thank God for this great continent of Africa and its peoples and to continue to pray for peace.
The exhibition will be open all day today and all day tomorrow. We are all invited. The OLAs are invited to go, spend time there, and to meet people who will come to visit, and to share our stories with them. So – any free time we have to be available to meet people over these two days, will be appreciated.
I have no doubt Tomas O’Cathain would love to be here with us and would surely have been here had God allowed it. But, God’s plans are not ours. We will surely miss him. May Tomas, a very faithful member of our Ardfoyle community and OLA family, rest in peace.
Today we also celebrate with the SMA their 162 years of Foundation. We thank God for all God has done and continues to do through the SMA, and ourselves who were born from them. I hand you over to Fr Hugh to lead us in the Eucharist.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.