08 June 2017

Cardinal Duval: A Life Poured out for the Love of Algeria (2)

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The handwriting reads, “Cordial thoughts and affectionate blessings, Léon-Etienne Duval, Cardinal Archbishop of Algiers," April 19, 1965 The handwriting reads, “Cordial thoughts and affectionate blessings, Léon-Etienne Duval, Cardinal Archbishop of Algiers," April 19, 1965 http://www.brandesautographs.com/en/leon-etienne-cardinal-duval-autograph-6001355.html

I began this two-part blog post with the invasion and subsequent colonization of the small Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE. Yes, Jeremiah along with many other prophets since at least two centuries had warned its rulers that unless Israel repented of its sins, this calamity would surely strike them. At the same time, the short book of Lamentations which he wrote after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of its elites also reflected God’s lament in the face of such horrific human violence, cruelty and suffering.

The colonization of Algeria, you might say, was much tamer and humane than that of the Babylonians. After all, they took no one into captivity but only brought their own people to colonize the land. I would hope that if you read the first part of this blog (and taking into account that this all began in 1830), you would think twice about using the word “humane.” Those 132 years of colonization were anything but that, mostly because the vast majority of the population (France’s “Muslim citizens”) had practically no civil rights. Further, the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) killed nearly a million of them.

Enter Léon-Etienne Duval. Pope John XXIII moved him from his administrative post in the French Alps region and sent him to Algeria, naming him in 1947 bishop of Constantine and Hippo (where St. Augustine’s was bishop in the fourth century). Then in February 1954 he was installed as archbishop in Algiers and overseer of three bishops in the church of French Algeria. Eight months later, the Algerian resistance ignited the war.

In this second half I will light on various passages in the French book of interviews with Duval (pictured in the first half), highlighting two main aspects of the cardinal’s calling in that land: missionary and prophet. I’ll follow that up with some personal recollections.


Cardinal Duval’s missionary calling

This is especially interesting to me not only because in a much humbler position I too served as a pastor in two different expatriate churches in Algiers (1978-1987), but also because I now teach as an adjunct professor in the field of missiology (the study of Christian mission) and Islamic Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Remember that it was the pope himself who appointed Duval bishop in French Algeria. In 1950 a special envoy from the Vatican came to spend three weeks there and Duval invited him to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the basilica at Hippone (near the ruins of ancient Hippone near the city of Annaba in eastern Algeria). Regarding this visit, Cardinal Duval recalls one of his words, “My brothers, let us resist the voices of hatred, holding on faithfully to love, peace and gentleness. That is how to build or rebuild” (67).

For Duval, this was an affirmation of his calling to build bridges with other Christian confessions and with Algeria’s majority Muslim population. This papal envoy was none other than Monseigneur Roncalli who would soon become Pope John XXIII. So Duval looked back on his visit as “prophetic” – and especially this particular word: “Remembering the words of the Apostle Saint Paul, I love to contemplate them in the light of Abraham, the great patriarch of all the believers” (67).

He even talked at length with Duval about how he saw the church’s mission in Algeria: “a mission of universal openness, with a great respect for the freedom of persons and populations, a mission of love with humility in a spirit of service.”

A year and a half into the war, Cardinal Duval issued a statement addressed to all Algerians:


“God is with those who desire to build with justice a fraternal Algeria. In the midst of our cruel anguish a great hope remains: the friendship which, despite the storm, persists between true Christians and sincere Muslims” (102).


The journalist had quoted this to him, and he responded by saying he believed that friendship was still evident and bearing fruit. Then this statement: “I can summarize my apostleship [or “mission”] in Algeria in one word: friendship. I believe in the power of friendship.”

Further on in the book the journalist asks the Cardinal about the relative importance of evangelization (“preaching the gospel to save souls”) or social and political action to further the cause of justice. I quote the greater part of his answer here:


“The church must announce the Good News, that is clear. But it announces it to people who live on this earth in concrete situations. To ignore the situation in which people live would be to announce the Good News in an abstract way, divorced from its historical context. Further, there is a close connection between the gospel and the demands of justice. To do away with the latter would be a dangerous proposition and could lead to a betrayal of the Good News. One cannot speak of a God of love while ignoring the injustices that bear down on people” (139).


Then too Christian witness includes dialog with people of other faiths, and in that sense there is a dynamic of mutual witness:


“Seeing Muslims faithfully practicing prayer, fasting and pilgrimage increased the Christians’ motivation to practice their own faith. Conversely, I remember the president of a Muslim association in Annaba telling me, ‘We have no trust in a French administrator who does not go to Mass’” (84).


Finally, what I find remarkable in Cardinal Duval’s view of Christian mission is the role played by the Holy Spirit. The following statement seems to anticipate the revolutionary document he would contribute to in the next decade, Lumen Gentium (“Light of the Nations”) from Vatican II. Duval in his Pentecost 1956 radio address said this:


“The Spirit of God fills the universe. He is sent to all the Church’s sons [and daughters] scattered throughout the earth. He is even sent beyond the walls of the visible church to all people of good will whom he prepares by his grace for salvation and enables to actively participate in the salvation of the world” (104).


Further on, Duval tells of a member of the Army of National Liberation (ALN) , who was betrayed by a compatriot and then brutally tortured by the French. After the war the betrayer became very ill and was hospitalized. The man who had been tortured by him nevertheless came to the hospital every day to keep him company and shave him. “I had to care for him, because no one would come to visit him.” The cardinal concludes:


“How could the Church possibly survive in Algeria unless the Holy Spirit sustain it by working outside of its visible borders? There is outside of the Church a movement which converges with what God’s Spirit is accomplishing within the Church” (168).


Cardinal Duval’s prophetic calling

I use “prophetic” here by associating it to the role and calling of the Old Testament prophets, including Jeremiah. They received God’s words for the people and transmitted those messages to them. Often those words were for rulers, in which case “they spoke truth to power,” as the adage goes. Allow me highlight just a few examples.


    • Just two months into the war (Jan. 1955) Cardinal Duval issued a public declaration condemning all forms of torture.
    • The next year, in a letter addressed to all the clergy, he spoke of the Algerian people’s right to determine their own future.
    • At independence, within the framework of the Evian Accords, Cardinal Duval took on Algerian nationality. Over a hundred priests and nuns followed his example.
    • When the agenda for the 1971 world synod of the Catholic Church was focused only on the role of the priesthood in the Church, Cardinal Duval insisted it also deal with justice in the world.
    • For Christmas 1979 Cardinal Duval was accompanied by Algeria’s Foreign Minister to Tehran in order to celebrate Mass with the American hostages. The Algerian government was hoping he could negotiate for their release with the Islamic students holding them.


In fact, he never stopped calling attention to the disparities between the French citizens and the Muslim natives of the land. He also called for French farmers and business owners to treat their Muslim employees kindly and fairly. This earned him a derogatory title from many in France – “Muhammad Duval”! He had this to say about that:


“I was not surprised that people called me ‘Muhammad.’ They were actually rendering me a great service. Many Muslims warmly congratulated me. They knew that I remained Catholic, but they were happy to see that the Church was not a ghetto. They understood that it was an open community. It was open, because of its love for all people; open too, because of its concern to promote justice, dialog, mutual understanding, and to work for the common good of all humanity” (146).


My own connection to Cardinal Duval

During my nine years in Algeria, as a pastor I benefited directly from the cardinal’s Christian leadership in that nation. Thanks to him, we had regular meetings between Protestants and Catholics leaders. Usually present would be himself and one of his assistants, along with Gerald Brittenden, the priest of the Anglican Church (where I served for four years) and Bible Society director; Pastor Hugh Johnson, the senior pastor for the Protestant Church of Algeria (where I served for five years); and Gilbert Carayon, pastor of the small Seventh-Day Adventist Church. There was wonderful collegiality and friendship among us, and out of those meetings was birthed the establishment of the Bible Society’s shop in Algiers, the only one in all of North Africa.

Thanks also to the cardinal, Hugh Johnson and I would precede the radio broadcast of the Mass in Algiers’ cathedral by quickly switching places with the two radio journalists who had just given the 7am news bulletin. This was “Alger Chaine 3,” the national radio station in French, which was the most popular one by far. Four times a year we did this – Christmas, New Year’s, Easter and Pentecost. I must have preached at least six times over the years. It was a bit surreal to speak live into a microphone, knowing that a minimum of two or three million Algerians were listening to me. But it was Duval who had paved the way, especially during the war years. He recalled this:


“I knew that people in the mountains listened to my messages on the radio. A Muslim man who lived in a region far away from Algiers once said, ‘We always listen to the pope on the radio, because he always defends justice.’ I am happy in this regard to be associated with the pope!”


Then finally, on a more personal note, God used the cardinal to lead me to my wife. Years before, my mother had responded to the request of a French teacher in a Quaker boarding school near Philadelphia and found a French family near them in Lyon to receive her student named Charlotte for a year. Some twelve years later, this student, now a nurse, ran into my father during one of his visits to the US. After hearing from her that she felt called to serve abroad as a missionary, my father suggested Algeria. Charlotte came for a visit and my boss, Hugh Johnson, invited her to come and work in our parish, mostly to visit some of the elderly shut-ins.

I was 33 and single, though for a long time I had been in a long distance relationship with an Algerian woman. We had spoken about marriage, but the obstacles were many. Charlotte and I worked closely together that year and at one point she confided about being in love with me. I thanked her for being so brave and open about it, but added that I could not reciprocate. “Let’s just remain friends.” A medical student in our church from Zaïre (at the time) had an amazing gift of prophecy, often with visions “in Technicolor,” as he put it. I had many opportunities to see that this was clearly a gift from God. At one point he told me I would marry Charlotte. Still, I was not convinced.

Then on April 15th, 1986, the Reagan Administration bombed Gaddafi’s residence in Tripoli. A few days later Charlotte, who had just come back from three months in France because her residence papers had not gone through, had just stepped into the immigration office in Algiers to apply again for a residence permit. This time she was insulted, yelled at, and kicked out. “Americans, out of Algeria!”

Hugh Johnson mentioned this to the Cardinal Duval, who answered, “We too have had difficulties with this office. There are a few fundamentalist hotheads who are blocking out people too.” So he went to see his friend who happened to be in charge of national security and a week later Charlotte received her final residence card, a process that in the best conditions would take three or four months.

I clearly saw God’s hand in this and I said to God, “OK, I’m open. Show me the way.” In the next few days my feelings for her flipped dramatically and we were married that fall. Cardinal Duval, the new archbishop Henri Teissier, and a few priests and nuns joined our very international congregation for the wedding ceremony. We are still very happily married today thirty years later!


A life poured out for Jesus and Algeria

I end with a story and a quote. Cardinal Duval lived another ten years in Algiers, but he likely would have lived longer had it not been for the tragedy that weighed so heavily on him. Algeria collapsed into civil war in 1992 when the islamist party (FIS) was poised to win the second round of parliamentary elections and the army stepped in. It was a brutal war with bomb attacks almost daily in Algiers and numerous assassinations of politicians, secular intellectuals, foreigners and especially priests and nuns. I remember Hugh Johnson telling me, “After going to the fiftieth funeral for one of my friends, I stopped counting.”

Already in the 1950s during the war, Rome had urged Duval to shut down the Cistercian monastery in the mountains near Medea. He said no. “This is a witness that needs to remain,” he insisted. Forty years later, an extreme offshoot of the GIA (Islamic Armed Group) was hiding in the Medea area committing numerous atrocities. One of the monks was a physician and he had long taken care of the medical needs of the surrounding villages free of charge. Add to that the wonderful dialog the monks had carried on with some local Sufi Muslims (the mystical side of Islam), and you can imagine how beloved those monks were among the local population. At this point they urged the monks to leave. “These fighters will come after you,” they warned.

The film “Of Gods and Men” in 2010 recounts that brewing drama over several months in gripping and beautiful fashion. It took France by storm and won Best Film at the Cannes Festival that year. I want to believe God used it to bring some healing to the French who suffered most from the Algerian war. It certainly was a tribute to the sacrificial faith of the monks, and indirectly, a tribute to their cardinal’s faith.

The seven monks were indeed kidnapped and after disappearing for about two months, the GIA reported that they had been executed on May 21st, 1996. Their heads were discovered ten days later, but their bodies were never recovered. This ordeal must have been too much for Cardinal Duval to bear. As it turned out, his funeral Mass was celebrated in his beloved Basilica of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers and the Mass also celebrated the lives and sacrifice of the seven monks.

Léon-Etienne Duval’s life was “poured out for Algeria,” as you see in my title. But that is because it was first poured out for Jesus. I end with the last paragraph of Le Cardinal Duval: ‘Evêque en Algérie’:


“It is in Jesus Christ that I feel bound, not only to the Christians of my diocese, but to those of the whole world and of all ages; yet not only to Christians, but also to Muslims, Jews, and even to those who call themselves atheists. All the marvels of creation are for me messengers of one of Jesus Christ’s thoughts, for all was created in Him, for Him and by Him. He fills the entire universe. He is present everywhere in history. Even more so than in creation, I search for Him and at times I find Him in the movements of true love, which His Spirit brings forth in the hearts of the humble, the poor, and the suffering members of the human family. All authentic love, all love that is disinterested and directed to all is a manifestation of Jesus Christ.”