Bishop Claverie: A Life Sacrificed for Love

Author: Cardinal Bernardin Gantin


Cardinal Bernardin Gantin

Homily in Algeria at the Funeral Mass for Bishop Claverie 5 August 1996

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12:24).

On 2 June, the morning of the funeral in Algiers, John Paul II proposed for the veneration and imitation of the whole Church Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, strangled for his faith and crucified in the heart of the mysterious continent. This witness was 38 years old.

The previous day, the Pope had publicized his Message for the 70th World Mission Day. Martyrdom was at the heart of this letter....

The Church's memory is fidelity, prayer and sacrifice. And she does not forget love.

A great divine saying in St John's Gospel constantly reminds us of this:

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12:24).

These words invite us particularly to silence, recollection and prayer, to a reflection on the meaning and fruitfulness of a life sacrificed for love.

We therefore wish to listen and make our own the message which our brother, Pierre Claverie, continues to address to us.

The whole Church is watching and praying with our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who yesterday once again expressed his thoughts and feelings on this sorrowful and distressing event and is deeply united with us this morning.

The whole world is also profoundly shocked and distressed by the tragic "burying" of the one who, in this very place and for everyone, was a courageous and respected Pastor, an entirely devoted brother and an ever faithful and loyal friend, totally committed to his religious and missionary vocation.

To give one's life for those one loves ... what a beautiful witness for a priest and Bishop! Indeed, Bishop Claverie had always and forever been dedicated to this land and to this Algerian society he so loved. He gave them his life.

What he did for the faithful entrusted to his care and for his many Algerian friends was not motivated by ideology but for the sake of Someone: Jesus.

The Church in Algeria is perfectly recognizable in the person of this Bishop: unassuming in his way of living and acting, concerned that Christians be more and more ready to "account for the hope that is in them", attentive to the life and expectations of their Algerian brothers and sisters.

Like this Church which he served with rare talent, he asked no privileges. Only to be here, recognized and loved, to be better able, in turn, to serve and to love.

His death was tragic. It is added to that of the 18 religious who appear in the pages of this modern martyrology. It is also added to the hundreds of Algerians who die almost every day in this country torn by a violence which no cause can ever justify. Still less religion.

But this death is first and foremost an appeal: if the grain of wheat dies, it will bear fruit in abundance. This sacrifice must be the seed of life and love. For the Church and for Algerian society. We Christians and Muslims know, because we believe, that evil cannot triumph. The God in whom we believe is the God of Life. He who calls man to collaborate with him in a land where everyone shares resources, ideas and plans with others. Because God has made us his children and therefore brothers and sisters to one another.

In sending me here to be with you today, Pope John Paul II has wanted to show his spiritual solidarity. He has asked me to tell you, and especially you, the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church, of his admiration and pride for what you are and what you achieve, all of you, with one another and for one another, in communion with your Bishops. He sends his Apostolic Blessing and his fatherly encouragement to each of you.

We are now going to continue the liturgy. Christ's sacrifice will be renewed and the sacrifice of Bishop Claverie will be combined with the offering of Jesus in a most eloquent and real way. Allow me, as I conclude, to invite you to pray with him, leaving the last word to a great saint who was also unassuming, yet nevertheless a man of dialogue: Francis of Assisi.

"Lord, we pray to you:
Where there is hatred, let us sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, peace.
Where there is error, truth.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy".

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
21 August 1996

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