Fr. Charles de Foucauld was murdered on December 1, 1916.
He has been an inspiration to me. I have tried to be like him. I tried to be one of the Little Brothers of Jesus. I have also failed.
However, this failure has not been without……..to understand: read his story, his writings and see the work he has inspired.
Blessed Charles Eugène de Foucauld (15 September 1858 – 1 December 1916) was a French Catholic religious and priest living among the Tuareg in the Sahara in Algeria. He was assassinated in 1916 outside the door of the fort he built for the protection of the Tuareg, and is considered by the Catholic Church to be a martyr. His inspiration and writings led to the founding of the Little Brothers of Jesus among other religious congregations. He was beatified on 13 November 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Charles de Foucauld was an officer of the French Army in North Africa where he first developed his strong feelings about the desert and solitude. On his subsequent return to France, and towards the end of October 1886, at the age of 28, he went through a conversion experience at the Church of Saint Augustin in Paris.
In 1890, de Foucauld joined the Cistercian Trappist order first in France and then at Akbès on the Syrian–Turkish border, but left in 1897 to follow an undefined religious vocation in Nazareth. He began to lead a solitary life of prayer, near a convent of Poor Clares and it was suggested to him that he be ordained. In 1901, at the age of 43, he was ordained in Viviers, France, and returned to the Sahara in French Algeria and lived a virtually eremitical life. He first settled in Béni Abbès, near the Moroccan border, building a small hermitage for “adoration and hospitality”, which he soon referred to as the “Fraternity”.
Later, he moved to be with the Tuareg people, in Tamanghasset in southern Algeria. This region is the central part of the Sahara with the Ahaggar Mountains (the Hoggar) immediately to the west. Foucauld used the highest point in the region, the Assekrem, as a place of retreat. Living close to the Tuareg, and sharing their life and hardships, he made a ten-year study of their language and cultural traditions. He learned the Tuareg language and worked on a dictionary and grammar. His dictionary manuscript was published posthumously in four volumes and has become known among Berberologues for its rich and apt descriptions. He formulated the idea of founding a new religious institute, which became a reality only after his death, under the name of the Little Brothers of Jesus.
On December 1, 1916, de Foucauld was dragged from his fortress by a gang of armed bandits led by El Madani ag Soba, who was connected with the Senussi Bedouin. Their intention was to kidnap de Foucauld, but when the gang was disturbed by two guardsmen, one startled bandit (15-year-old Sermi ag Thora) shot their prisoner through the head, killing him instantly. The murder was witnessed by sacristan and servant Paul Embarek, an African Arab former slave liberated and instructed by Fr de Foucauld.
His life goes on
Charles de Foucauld died alone, and without the immediate fellowship of others sharing his practice of the life of Jesus of Nazareth and hospitality in the desert of Algeria. Yet he was successful at inspiring and helping to organize a confraternity within France in support of his idea. This organisation, called the Association of the Brothers and Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, consisted of lay and ordained members totaling 48 people at the time of his death.
It was this group, and specifically the efforts of Louis Massignon, the world-famous scholar of Islam, and a best selling biography written by René Bazin in 1921 – La Vie de Charles de Foucauld Explorateur en Maroc, Eremite du Sahara – which kept his memory alive and inspired the family of lay and religious fraternities that include Jesus Caritas, the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of Jesus, among a total of ten religious congregations and nine associations of spiritual life.
Though originally French in origin, these groups have expanded to include many cultures and their languages on all continents.
The 1936 French film The Call of Silence portrayed Charles de Foucauld’s life.