For Advent, Bishop Bonny looks to the martyrs of Algeria

Today, nineteen martyrs of the faith will be beatified in Algeria. It’s a varied group of priests, religious sisters and a bishop and their martyrdom is not an ancient event. Rather, they were killed for being Christians in living memory, in te last decade of the 20th century.

In his Advent letter, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp presents us one of the soon-to-be Blesseds. Belgian-born White Father Charles Deckers. He, the bishop says, provides a modern face to Advent, a time of hope and expectation. These are what motivated Fr. Charles and the other martyrs in life, and these still remain.

bonny“What are we waiting for? A justifiable question. Every year it is Advent. Every year we dream about peace and reconciliation. Every years we read pages full of hope and expectation in the Prophets. Every year we construct a nativity scene with a child in the manger. Not once do we feel that those expectations are unnecessary or outdated. On the contrary, year after year current events bring new disappointments or challenges. Our greatest expectations still remain hidden as seeds in the earth, waiting for a better season.

In the middle of Advent, on 8 December, the Antwerp-born White Father Charles Deckers will be beatified in Oran, Algeria, together with eighteen other martyrs. This group of Algerian martyrs also includes a bishop, six sisters, three other White Father and seven Trappists. We know the latter from the movie Des Hommes et de Dieux.

Charles Deckers was born in Antwerp on 26 December 1924. He follows his secondary education at the college of Our Lady. During the Second World War the Jesuits implore their students to aid the needy inhabitants of the city. It marks Charles Deckers for life. After his secondary education he decides to become a missionary in Africa. He ends up in Algeria, then still a French colony. He studies Islam and learns both Arabic and Berber. In Tizi Ouzou, where he lives and works for the longest time, he has a special eye for the young. He establish a technical school where young people can learn a profession. During the Algerian War (1954-1962) he does everything to prevent young people from joining extremist or violent groups. Because the civil authorities do no appreciate his impact on Algeria’s youth, he is forced to leave the country in 1977.

He remains abroad for ten years: five years in Brussels and five years in Yemen. In Brussels he takes part in the establishment of El Kalima, a centre of encounter and dialogue between Christians and Muslims. He is finally able to return to Algeria in 1987. As priest he is attached to the Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Afrique in the capital Algiers. Again, he works for encounter and dialogue, especially among the young. And again, he establishes a polytechnic.

After 1990, political tensions in Algeria steadily increase. Fundamentalist Muslim groups commit deathly attacks against anyone working for peace and reconciliation in the country. Violence against Christians also increases. Despite the threats, most priests and religious decide to remain in the country. Charles Deckers also wants to stay, out of solidarity with the persecuted Christians and his threatened Muslim friends. It is a conscious decision, supported by a deep spirituality. On 26 December 1994 he celebrates his 70th birthday in Algiers. Days later he leaves for Tizi Ouzou, to visit his brother priests. Less than half an hour after his arrival a group of armed commandos break into the building and kill the four White Fathers present, among them Charles Deckers.

Expectation is not giving in to despair or bitterness. It is continued hope for what seems impossible.

After all, humanity’s most beautiful expectations are still hidden like seeds in the earth, waiting for better seasons. When will that hidden seed be able to sprout, grow and flower? It is an open question.

This year, the martyrs of Algeria provide a modern face to Advent.

Their hope and expectations have not vanished. They lie in the earth – also among us – waiting for better times. Advent’s question is not when God will come, but when man will receive Him. It is harder to wait for man that it is to wait for God.”

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After a new cardinal, now a new Nuncio for Belgium

After some uncertainty about the retirement of the previous one, Pope Francis today appointed a new Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium. The new ambassador of the Holy See to the Kingdom of Belgium, and representative of Rome to the Catholic Church in Belgium is an experienced diplomat who has served as a Nuncio since 1998.

augustine%20kasujja_0Archbishop Augustine Kasujja hails from Uganda, where he was born in 1946. In 1973 he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Kampala, and he entered the Holy See diplomatic service in 1979. He served in various countries, including Argentina, Haïti, Portugal, Peru and Algeria. In 1998 he was appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Algeria and Tunisia, and with that he was consecrated as archbishop of the titular see of Cesarea in Numidia. In April of 2004 he was transferred to Madagascar and the Seychelles as Nuncio, combined with the office of Apostolic Delegate to the Comoros. In June of that same year he also became the Nuncio to Mauritius. In 2010 he was appointed to Nigeria, where he served until his appointment today. It is assumed that Archbishop Kasujja will arrive in Belgium in the course of November.

Now 70, it makes sense to assume that the archbishop will complete the five years until his retirement in Belgium. As Nuncios play an important role in the appointment of bishops (they provide detailed reports on the three candidates selected by the cathedral chapter of the diocese in question and pass that on, together with their own advice, to the Congregation for Bishops, which then passes it on the Pope. The Pope can then use the report and advice to make his choice), it is perhaps interesting to see for which bishops Archihsop Kasujja will help pick a successor.

  • His retirement already submitted, Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy will probably see it accepted within the coming year. Archbishop Kasujja will probably have inherited the file on Ghent from his predecessor, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco. [EDIT: On 13 October, it was revealed that Pope Francis asked Bishop Van Looy to remain in office for two more years, until the end of 2018].
  • In July of 2018, Bishop Remy Vancottem of Namur will reach the age of 75. The erstwhile auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels succeeded the now retired Archbishop Léonard in the latter’s home diocese in 2010.
  • Archbishop Kasujja will possibly also start the groundwork for the appointment of the successor of Archbishop Jozef De Kesel in Brussels. The cardinal-elect will reach the age of 75 in June of 2022, well over a year after the Nuncio, but considering the importance of the archbishop of Brussels, not least now that he is once again a cardinal, the process may well have begun at that time.
  • In that same year, but four months earlier, Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn, one of Mechelen-Brussels’ auxiliary bishops, will also submit his resignation. But as auxiliary bishops are not archbishops, the preparation for the selection of new one (of there is even going to be one) need not take as long.

Archbishop Kasujja’s appointments is noticeable in that he is not only the first non-European Nuncio to Belgium, but also the only African Nuncio in Europe at this time.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium has also been the Apostolic Nuncio to Luxembourg since 1916, when the first papal representative was sent to the grand duchy. Archbishop Kasujja will therefore soon also be appointed to that smallest of the Benelux countries.

The Apostolic Nunciature to Belgium in its current form dates back to 1843, although there have been interruptions in the presence of Nuncios (there were none from 1846 to 1866, 1868 to 1875, 1880 to 1896 and 1911 to 1916). Archbishop Kasujja is the 21st Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, and the most notable of his predecessor is the first in that list, who served from 1843 to 1846: at the time Archbishop Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci, he became Pope Leo XIII in 1878. Fourteen of the previous Nuncios to Belgium later became cardinals.

Photo credit: NTV