ROME – It’s official: A bishop, seven Trappist monks and 11 other religious men and women killed by extremists in Algeria between 1994 and 1996 have been recognized as martyrs by Pope Francis on Saturday.
The decree signed by the pontiff was released on Saturday morning Rome time, confirming that the Servant of God, Pierre Lucien Claverie, bishop of Oran, together with 18 companions have been acknowledged as dying in odium fidei, meaning in “hatred of the faith.”
The monks of Tibhirine knew that they were in danger and would likely be killed if they remained in Algeria, at the time divided by a war between extremist rebels and the Algerian government forces. Their story was depicted in a 2010 French drama “Of Gods and Men,” recipient of the Grand Prix, the second most prestigious award of the Cannes Film Festival.
The conflict began in 1992 when the Algerian army canceled the general election, as it seemed the Islamic Salvation Front, a fundamentalist political movement, was about to win. It was the eventual triumph by the Salvation Front in Algeria that gave rise to a rueful saying about efforts to transition to democracy in many Islamic societies: “One man, one vote, one time.”
An estimated 44,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed amid the fighting.
French Father Christian de Cherge, the slain prior of the monastery, had written in a letter nearly three years before his death that he and the other monks would willingly offer themselves as a sacrifice for the people of Algeria.
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