The Abbot General of the Cistercian Order, Bernardo Olivera, said the following:

“We must enter the world of the other, be he Christian or Muslim. In effect, if the ‘other’ does not exist as such, there is no space for true love. Let us be disturbed and enriched by the existence of the other. Let us remain open, sensitive to every voice that challenges us. Let us choose love, forgiveness and communion against every form of hatred, vengeance and violence. Let us believe without flinching in the deep desire for peace which resides in the depth of every human heart.” (The Monastic Way, 2006, 139-140).

moines de tibhirine

I find these words of the Abbot General very inspiring. They were said in a particular context: the martyrdom of seven of his Cisterican brothers in Algeria. During the night of March 27-28, 1996, seven monks of the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas, near the village of Tibhirine in Algeria, were abducted by Islamic fundamentalists. Their abduction was claimed by a radical faction of the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) in a communiqué dated April 18, 1996 and published on April 27. In a second communiqué, dated May 23, the GIA announced that the monks had been executed on May 21, 1996. Their remains were identified and their funeral Mass was celebrated in the Catholic Cathedral of Algiers on Sunday, June 2.  They were buried in the cemetery of their monastery at Tibhirine on June 4, 1996.

de_cherge_christianOne of the monks is particularly worth mentioning, Dom Christian de Cherge, as he wrote a deeply moving text, which despite its length, I have included in this article. Born on January 18, 1937, at Colmar (Haut-Rhin), he entered the monastery of Atlas on August 20, 1969, when already a priest (ordination: March 21, 1964). He made his noviciate at Aiguebelle, and his solemn profession at Atlas on October 1, 1976. He was the elected Titular Prior of Atlas since 1984. He had studied in Rome from 1972 to 1974 and was deeply involved in interreligious dialogue. His Testament, written over a year before his death but only discovered afterwards, has already become a classic of modern religious literature. For a more in-depth biographical study, see Monk, Martyr and Mystic by Dom Bernardo Olivera.

Testament of Dom Christian de Cherge

Facing a GOODBYE…. 
If it should happen one day – and it could be today -that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf
all the foreigners living in Algeria, 
I would like my community, my Church and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.
In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil
which seems to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.

I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God 
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death.
It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice
if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay
for what will perhaps be called, the “grace of martyrdom”
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,
especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.

I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience
by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel
which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,
precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm 
those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
”Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!”
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father 
to contemplate with him His children of Islam
just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,
the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit
whose secret joy will always be to establish communion 
and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,
I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely 
for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.

In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on,
I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,
and you, my friends of this place,
along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too,
because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.


Algiers, 1st December 1993 
Tibhirine, 1st January 1994  



August 30, 2009

gautama-buddhaThe fastest growing religion in British jails? According to figures released in the Daily Telegraph it is Buddhism. In 1997 there were only 226 Buddhists in prisons in England and Wales, but by the end of June 2008 that figure had risen by 669 per cent to reach 1,737. Some jails and secure hospitals including Broadmoor have opened shrines known as Buddha Groves in their grounds, and there is a nationwide network of chaplains to cater for the growing population.

China attacks Falun Gong

August 30, 2009

St_martin_in_the_fields_exteriorHeard of Falun Gong or Falun Dafa? Now I have to confess that I had not. Yesterday however I did encounter it and it was something that touched the very depths of my heart. Just to the side of St Martin in the Fields a group of men and women were doing Falun Gong. They were absolutely silent, meditating, moving slowly and focussing totally on the Self. That part of London is always so crazy and yesterday it seemed to be heaving. Yet in the middle of all of that there was silence, movement, harmony and beauty.

Watching them reminded me of a film directed by Aronofsky where he uses the theme of the Fibonacci Sequence to make the point that there is no such thing as coincidence or randomness, there is a divine ordering behind everything. These beautiful people seemed to be witnessing to something very powerful in the universe. These visibly silent people were sending out such a loud sound across London. I found it deeply moving to watch.

What perhaps made their silence even more eloquent was the literature some of their members were handing out was describing the persecution of Falun Gong in China. It seems that in 1999 the Chinese Government decided that this form of spirituality was no longer acceptable. As a consequence hundreds of thousands of people are being held in jails and labour camps. The United Nations have documented 38,000 torture cases. 3,200 people have been confirmed dead as a result of torture. Their literature outlines even more horrific cases. The Vice-President of the European Parliament, Edward McMillian-Scott has commented that, “More than 40,000 additional unexplained transplants have been recorded recently in China since 2001. Although using body parts from executed prisoners has been routine in China, many believe, as I do, that live Falun Gong prisoners are quarried for their body parts.”

So despite the most horrendous persecution these evidently good and holy people continue to meditate and move with the harmony of the universe. Ultimately we do know who will succeed.

Christian Ryan

August 29, 2009


Over the last nine years Christian Ryan has developed his career as an artist designing and making site specific glass artwork. Since graduating in 2000 Christian initially gained experience working in glass studios and was soon undertaking commissions himself, this led to establishing his own studio in his home town of Bridgend, South Wales. Since then he has been producing commissioned work for a variety of clients including local government, healthcare, PFI projects, private clients and ecclesiastical bodies.


Recent work has been produced in collaboration with commercial studios using a variety of glass processing, ranging from traditional stained glass techniques and glass etching to digitally printed films and polymer glass paints. This collaboration allows time to develop work for future projects and explore a greater range of media.

nmwa3993I don’t plan to … but what a painting. I have had a copy of this painting on my wall wherever I have lived. I lived in a College in Rome for five years and the picture was so popular that I left it there and there is now a tradition of handing the painting to a new student so that it remains there. It is a typically Welsh scene and I love the energy of the young couple. The artist is a fascinating man, Kevin Sinnott, born 1947. He has exhibited work throughout the world, you can see paintings by him today at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff. Two parishes I know in Wales have paintings by him, St Mary’s, Bridgend and St Illtyd’s, Dowlais. The Catholic Chaplaincy at Oxford also has a painting by him. You know I don’t have anything profound to say about this art but I think the artist is a profoundly spiritual man – Catholic – and sees the unity of all things. It is well worth the effort to see his work.

35065“We’ve always had a somewhat difficult relationship with the Vatican,” says Brother Frederique of the Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi Monastery in Syria. When you hear that monks and nuns live in the same monastery you think you might have some understanding as to the relationship problems … but no this is the tip of the iceberg. “Our shared spirituality is based on the simplicity of our life, on peace and the recognition of Islam and Christianity as religions of God.” The different religions are part of the “mystery that is humanity,” says Brother Frederique. The monastic community of Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi believe that Christianity and Islam are equal.

The monastic buildings date from the eleventh century however the religious community is much younger. The monastery was only rediscovered in 1983 by a Jesuit priest doing an archaeological excavation in the Syrian desert. Having prayed there he felt spiritually inspired to found a monastic community dedicated to dialogue between Islam and Christianity. The monks and nuns within the community come from across the world. Their liturgy is celebrated in the Syrian Rite and the Arabic language. They welcome Christians and Muslims to visit and regularly hold seminars to foster a a spirit of dialogue.

“The desert has a spirituality of its very own,” feels Brother Frederique. And, he says, it is always a very special thing to encounter the spirit of God – or Allah – in the desert.”

swami_vivekananda_PG73_lVivekananda points out that the defect of the present-day education is that it has no definite goal to pursue. A sculptor has a clear idea about what he wants to shape out of the marble block; similarly, a painter knows what he is going to paint. But some teachers, he says, have no clear idea about the goal of their teaching. Swamiji attempts to establish, through his words and deeds, that the end of all education is man making. He prepares the scheme of this man-making education in the light of his over-all philosophy of Vedanta. According to Vedanta, the essence of man lies in his soul, which he possesses in addition to his body and mind. Swamiji defines education as ‘the manifestation of the perfection already in man.’ The aim of education is to manifest in our lives the perfection, which is the very nature of our inner self. This perfection is the realisation of the infinite power which resides in everything and every-where-existence, consciousness and bliss (satchidananda). After understanding the essential nature of this perfection, we should identify it with our inner self. For achieving this, one will have to eliminate one’s ego, ignorance and all other false identification, which stand in the way. Meditation, fortified by moral purity and passion for truth, helps man to leave behind the body, the senses, the ego and all other non-self elements, which are perishable. He thus realizes his immortal divine self, which is of the nature of infinite existence, infinite knowledge and infinite bliss.

Blessed Dominic Barberi

August 26, 2009

paulwebToday is the 160th anniversary of the death of Blessed Dominic Barberi an Italian Passionist priest. Now I will forgive you if you are thinking “…. yes, and?… oh no is the author having another uber Catholic moment?” But you know that this Italian priest who always struggled with English (like me!) did something very great in the life of this country. Blessed Dominic was responsible for receiving John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church. I think it is truly wonderful news that John Henry Newman will be beatified – the first step towards canonisation – in 2010 in Birmingham. If you are passing through Reading Station today perhaps you could give Blessed Dominic a thought as that is where he returned to the Father.

Nothing in particular!

August 26, 2009

abbey120Dom John Chapman, OSB, was Abbot of the Benedictine community at Downside Abbey. I have always found his character attractive. A volume of his letters on prayer have recently been republished with an introduction by the equally unique Dom Sebastian Moore, OSB. The letters make great reading and are also very practical. The one bit of advice that really sticks in my mind is the very famous quote from one of his letters, “pray as you can, not as you can’t.” One quote which is rarely mentioned is, “meanwhile the mind is concentrated on nothing in particular – which is God of course.” This is surely Chapman at his best! So often with prayer we are concerned with our own needs, the needs of others, the conversation, the method, our own distractions that we can often forget the “nothing in particular.” In prayer we have to return gently to ourselves. In returning we discover that we are not alone and that the nothing in particular is God. If you seek to make the pilgrimage to the heart then there are many great resources on the net. Two which are particularly good: The Spiritual Solution and Sacred Space.

John Paul the Great

August 25, 2009

com0309kThe picture shows John Paul II kissing the Qur’an. For some Roman Catholics he went too far doing this. It has surprised me reading some traditionalist websites that they oppose his canonisation – being made a Blessed and then a Saint – because of his acceptance of other religions. I find their argument very hard to accept, in fact I have been hard pressed to find an argument other than what might be called Tridentine rhetoric but even that is to do disservice to the Council of Trent. From a very young age John Paul defended many of his Jewish friends, his home town Wadowice had a disproportionately large Jewish population. There should be little surprise that when he became the Successor of Peter that he continued to affirm the truthfulness and sacred that can be found in other religions. Indeed we should celebrate and protect those religions which speak of the primacy of prayer and meditation. John Main OSB said, “unity among different creeds and races rests upon our finding the inner principle of unity as an inner experience within our own hearts” (Word into Silence, ix).