Charles de Foucauld, the “universal brother”, will be a saint



A man in the Sahara desert alone holds a “treasure”. Some marauders learn about it and kill it to steal it. No, it’s not the starting point for a novel, but a true story. It took place in 1916 on the borders in deep Algeria. And it is the story of the killing of Charles de Foucauld, the “universal brother”, who will soon be holy. In fact, the Pope authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree on the miracle attributed to Blessed Charles of Jesus (this is his religious name) and this definitively reveals what was the “treasure” that he kept, to the point of not being afraid not even for his life: Jesus Christ in the tabernacle.

Since that death, the human and religious affair of Charles de Foucauld has fascinated and attracted generations over generations. To the point that what he did not succeed in life came true after his birth in Heaven. Over the years, as many as nineteen different families of lay people, priests, men and women religious have sprung from his spirituality and his way of living the Gospel (among the major ones, the fraternities of the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus). A man “who gave a testimony that has done good for the Church,” said Pope Francis in the Mass in the Santa Marta house on December 1, 2016, on the centenary of his death. And Benedict XVI at the time of the beatification, November 13, 2005, he affirmed that his life is “an invitation to aspire to universal brotherhood”.

Surely the earthly existence of de Foucauld has very topical ideas, both in the first part, lived in a way that is certainly not exemplary from a Christian point of view (but in this he is in good company with other saints, Augustine for example), and especially after the conversion that turned him into one of the greatest seekers of God. He also a great explorer from a geographical point of view, practically dedicated the rest of his years to exploring the immense territory of the relationship between the Creator and creatures.

Born in Strasbourg on 15 September 1858 from a noble family and himself awarded the viscount of Pontbriand, he spends early childhood in Wissembourg, but he loses both parents at the age of 6 and is raised by his maternal grandfather, who leaves him also a conspicuous legacy. The young Charles, a playmaker and a drawing-room, however, dilapidated her in a short time and in 1876 entered the Military School of Saint Cyr. He stands out more for his qualities as a soldier than a student, also because he is engaged in a relationship with a girl of dubious reputation. He later left the army to devote himself to geographical expeditions to Morocco and devoted himself to studying Arabic and Hebrew. As an explorer he proves to be very valid, to the point that in 1885 he received the gold medal from the French Geographical Society.

The following year he returned to his homeland and his life took a decisive turn, when the future saint (who in any case had been baptized as a child) felt the need to get closer to the Catholic Church. His invocation “My God, if you exist, let him know you” remained famous. And so it happens that God lets himself be known. As he himself will say one day: “As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could only live for him”. The turning point becomes more and more radical. In 1890 he joined the Trappists in France, but soon asked to retire to a much poorer trappa in Syria. A first religious congregation project also dates back to this period. The now thirty-two year old Charles feels the need to be released from the vows and a few years later is fulfilled. In 1897 the abbot general of the Trappists left him free to follow his vocation. For a while he remained in the Holy Land, then returned to France, in 1901 he was ordained a priest. In the same year he moved to Africa and took up residence in an oasis in the deep Sahara desert. He wears a white tunic on which a red fabric heart is sewn, topped with a cross. It hosts anyone who passes by him, Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans and spends another 13 years in the Tuareg village of Tamanrasset. He prays 11 hours a day, immerses himself in the mystery of the Eucharist, draws up a large French-Tuareg dictionary still in use in that area. And of course he does not fail to commit himself to the defense of local populations from the attacks of the marauders. And it is they, on December 1, 1916, who took the news of the great “treasure” that it guards and speaks to everyone about literally. Therefore, in an attempt to seize it (not knowing that in reality they are the particles consecrated during the Mass), the living people plunder his poor home and kill “Charles of Jesus”, as he calls himself the locals.

The cut flower of the desert still radiates its spores around the world. And the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld flourishes through his religious family. Who will soon also have a saint in paradise.

The decrees authorized by Francis also include the miracles that will lead to the canonization of the blessed Frenchman Cesare de Bus (1544-1607), founder of the Congregation of the Fathers of the Christian Doctrine (Doctrinari) and of the Italian Blessed Maria Domenica Mantovani (1862-1934). Furthermore, the document also recognizes the miracle that the American Venerable Servant of God Michele McGivney (1852-1890), founder of the Order of the Knights of Columbus, will bring to the altars, and the miracle attributed to the intercession of the French Venerable Servant of God Pauline Mary Jaricot (1799-1862), founder of the Works of the “Council of the Propagation of the Faith” and of the “Living Rosary”.

In addition, the decrees promulgated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will also lead to the beatification of the martyrs Servants of God Simeone Cardon and 5 Companions, professed religious of the Cistercian Congregation of Casamari – killed in Casamari, in hatred of the Faith, between 13 and 16 May 1799 – and the martyr Servant of God Cosma Spessotto, Italian, (1923-1980), professed priest of the Order of Friars Minor, killed in San Juan Nonualco (El Salvador).

Finally the Decrees recognize the heroic virtues of the French bishop Servant of God Melchiorre Maria de Marion Brésillac, former Apostolic Vicar of Coimbaore and Founder of the Society of African Missions, born in 1813 in Castelnaudary (France) and died in Freetown (Sierra Leone) in 1859 .

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