Twenty-five years ago, the 1er August 1996, shortly before midnight, while entering his bishopric, Mgr Pierre Claverie, the bishop of Oran, was killed by a bomb explosion at the age of 58. His friend and driver who accompanied him, Mohamed Bouchikhi, a young Algerian of 21, also died in the attack.
→ READ. Bishop Pierre Claverie, the monks of Tibhirine and eleven other men and women religious recognized as martyrs
However, the one who will be recognized as a martyr in 2018 knew he was threatened. That day, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hervé de Charette, had visited the graves of the seven less Trappist of Tibhirine a few hours earlier, murdered five months earlier by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Bishop Pierre Claverie then knows that one must fear “A search for a spectacular attack to offset the positive effects of this visit”, he explained on the airwaves of RCF three days before the tragedy. But he ruled out leaving: “If we stay in Algeria, it is to give our life to save the future, rather than leaving the country to save our life. “
Alongside the Algerians
Born in Algiers in a blackfoot family in 1938, he entered the Order of Preachers at the age of twenty before being ordained in 1965. He then decided to return to Algeria, for “Rediscover” the world in which he was born, a world that has changed since the Evian accords and the self-determination referendum of 1962 and that the Dominican wishes to support in its construction.
During the “black decade” of the 1990s, when civil war raged between the Algerian government and Islamist groups, the Bishop of Oran chose to stay with the inhabitants of his native land. “Since the beginning of the Algerian drama, I have often been asked: ‘What are you doing there? Why are you staying?’ (…) We are there as at the bedside of a friend, a sick brother, in silence, shaking his hand, wiping his forehead “, declared Bishop Pierre Claverie during his last stay in France, a month before his death.
“Bishop of Muslims”
All his life, the Dominican friar who became Bishop of Oran in 1981 will have worked in favor of interreligious dialogue: “The key word of my faith today is dialogue. Not by tactics or opportunism, but because dialogue is constitutive of the relationship of God to men and of men to each other. “ (1)
His knowledge of Islam was great, to the point that some called him “the bishop of Muslims” or “Sheikh Claverie”. Before assuming his episcopal functions, he was notably director of the Diocesan Center of Algiers for language study and training. His friendship with Mohammed Bouchikhi illustrates his closeness to the Algerian people, whom he will not hesitate to defend through the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights which he helps to create in 1990. He regularly takes a stand on social issues such as women’s rights, violence, the difficult living conditions of the population or justice, sometimes irritating inside and outside the Church, as in Algeria.
His murder was the last of the nineteen “martyrs of Algeria”. Besides Bishop Pierre Claverie and the seven monks of Tibhirine, four White Fathers, six French and Spanish nuns and a Marist brother were killed between 1994 and 1996. All were recognized as martyrs by Pope Francis in January 2018. Bishop Pierre Claverie and his ten -eight companions were beatified on December 8, 2018 during a Mass celebrated in Oran in the Chapel of Our Lady of Santa Cruz by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This is the first time that a beatification mass has taken place in a predominantly Muslim country.