Alumni News: Meeting the last monk of Tibhirine

Peter Dzeidzic (centre) sits with Br Jean-Pierre (right), the sole surviving monk of the former Trappist monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria. Dzeidzic wears a “djellaba”, a traditional Moroccan piece of clothing.

Peter Dzeidzic (centre) sits with Fr Jean-Pierre (right), the sole surviving monk of the former Trappist monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria. Dzeidzic wears a “djellaba”, a traditional Moroccan piece of clothing.

The 2011 film “Of Gods and Men” brought the story of French Trappists, martyred in Tibhirine, Algeria, to the attention of millions.

During the Algerian Civil War, in 1996, the Armed Islamic Group raided the monastery of Notre Dame de l’Atlas and kidnapped seven of the monks. They were held for two months and then beheaded.

Two monks survived the raid: Fr Jean-Pierre and Fr Amédée, who has since died.

An alumnus of The Lay Centre, Peter Dziedzic, recently met the last surviving monk of Tibhirine, Fr Jean-Pierre, who now lives in the monastery of Notre Dame de l’Atlas located in Midelt, southern Morocco.

An icon of the seven French monks martyred in Tibhirine, Algeria

An icon of the seven French monks martyred in Tibhirine, Algeria

The Trappists abandoned the monastery of Tibhirine in 2001. It now functions as a centre for prayer and interreligious dialogue, overseen by Fr Jean-Marie Lassausse, a French priest.

Dziedzic made his trip to Midelt in early March. He is currently studying Islamic mysticism, called Sufism, Arabic and the spirituality of Moroccan youth in Fes, Morocco, on a Fulbright scholarship.

Dziedzic pointed out that Notre Dame de l’Atlas is “the only active (men’s) monastic community in Morocco.”

“But what makes it (more) special is that it is the home of Fr Jean-Pierre, one of the survivors of the Tibhirine community in Algeria,” he said. His trip coincided with Fr Jean-Pierre’s 91st birthday celebration.

The church of the monastery of Notre Dame de l’Atlas in Midelt, Morocco

The church of the monastery of Notre Dame de l’Atlas in Midelt, Morocco

“I had a chance to sit and talk with Fr Jean-Pierre about his journey, and I was able to share that his life and the story of Tibhirine were inspiring for my own faith journey and journeys in interreligious work,” said Dziedzic.

“I learned a bit more about the engagement with the local Muslim and Berber community, which continues,” he said.

Benedictine Abbot Timothy Wright, whom Dziedzic had met at a conference at St Mary’s University in London last year, had encouraged him visit the Trappists in Midelt.

Dziedzic will be in Morocco until December 2015. He lived at The Lay Centre in 2013-2014, after completing his Bachelor of Arts in religious studies at DePaul University. He was in Rome as a Russell Berrie Fellow at the Angelicum, where he studied interreligious dialogue.

All photos courtesy of Peter Dziedzic

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