Archbishop Gallagher receives warm welcome in Algeria
By Jean Charles Putzolu
After meeting with the highest authorities of the State on Tuesday, 25 October, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, in Algeria for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Algeria and the Holy See, went the next morning to the monastery of Tibhirine, the site of the martyrdom of the seven Trappist monks murdered in 1996 by Islamist fighters and beatified in 2018 in Oran.
"This reflects the importance of this monastery for the Church; and it was also a moment of recollection, a peaceful moment, and a strong experience for anyone who goes to this place, to this monastery, to also feel the presence of the monks," said Archbishop Jean Paul Vesco, welcoming the presence of members of the Chemin Neuf community who now occupy the monastery.
Civil and religious authorities
For the Archbishop of Algiers, the welcome extended these two days to the head of Vatican diplomacy over the past two days is a testament to the attention given to the country's small Catholic minority.
On Tuesday, Archbishop Gallagher was received by the head of state, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, after a day of talks with members of the government, and a visit to the Martyr's Memorial - a monument built in memory of the victims of the war of independence against French troops.
At the interreligious chapter, the head of Vatican diplomacy also met with Sheikh Mohamed Mamoune El Kacimi El Hassini, rector of the Great Mosque of Algiers, which is the largest mosque in the African continent.
Archbishop Vesco noted that it is “a visit to a great sacred space and communion,” adding that these exchanges are "extremely important".
"We like to welcome people in sacred spaces,” he said. “People like to go up to Our Lady of Africa in Algiers, to Our Lady of Santa Cruz in Oran, to the Basilica of St. Augustine in Annaba.”
Sharing sacred spaces, even without speaking, "says much more, perhaps of the reality lived in each of our traditions and religions,” the Archbishop said.
Service to the needy
Archbishop Gallagher's visit also came less than a month after the closure of Caritas Algeria. The closure is at the request of the public authorities, to which the local Catholic Church has complied, while expressing its concern and its desire to continue to provide assistance to those who are vulnerable and the Algerian people.
"The presence in Algiers of the Pope's representative and the closure of Caritas are two different events," says Archbishop Vesco. However, he adds, “this visit in itself, independently of the closure of our Caritas service, does indeed kindle lights of hope.”
The Archbishop also acknowledged that the issue of Caritas was addressed. “It is mainly a lack of understanding due to lack of communication on both sides, of what Caritas is at the global level and at the level of Algeria.”
The Caritas service will not reopen, but the assurance was given that the humanitarian charitable activities of the Church will be able to continue, "and that was indeed completely reaffirmed to us," said Archbishop Vesco.