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Charles de Foucauld

Six months ago, I wrote about Charles de Foucauld. On Sunday, Pope Francis will declare him a saint. He has, of course, been on the Calendar of my (free) book Celebrating Eucharist since its publication.

Béni AbbèsHermitage Chapel built by Charles de Foucauld

Charles de Foucauld has been a leader in my spiritual life for over half a century. I won’t repeat what I wrote about him here, but in summary, Charles was converted from a dissolute life to an intense follower of Jesus – a hermit in the heart of the Sahara with the Tuaregs. There, having recorded much of the Tuareg language, he finally died a martyr.

Tamanrasset (outside view) – Hermitage built by Charles de Foucauld

Delightfully eccentric, Charles hoped and planned for an order, for followers. He died without a single follower. But little by little, people have taken up his charism. Little Brothers and Little Sisters live in a variety of ways – contemplatives often living essentially incognito in small communities, working alongside ordinary people, sharing the Good News by the way they live.

Tamanrasset (inside view) – Hermitage built by Charles de Foucauld

Charles, in my understanding, is integral to the trajectory bringing desert spirituality from the laboratory of the monastery enclosure into ordinary lives in the city, bringing the monastic into the domestic.

Assekrem (outside view)

As a significant part of my three months travelling through the Sahara, I followed him to many of the places where he built hermitages, including up in the Hoggar Mountains (Assekrem), spending a fortnight on retreat in Béni Abbès, and praying at his tomb, just out of El Goléa (now called, El Menia).

Assekrem (inside view) – Charles de Foucauld’s Hermitage Chapel reconstituted

Make sure you’ve read this; and then there’s this.

The five photos on this page are all taken by me.

icon: Br Charles and Jesus by a Little Sister of Jesus

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6 thoughts on “Charles de Foucauld”

  1. Jesse Billett

    Various distractions have prevented me from keeping up with your posts, Bosco. It was very lucky (read: providential) that I should have checked your site today. It was only two days ago that I was telling someone about Bl. Charles de Foucauld in a conversation about “church growth.”

    My interlocutor was getting ready for a Bible study session about the conversion and missionary work of St. Paul. She asked for my take on one of the discussion questions: “How can we grow the Church like Paul?”

    I replied, “We can’t! St. Paul’s whole missionary strategy was debating with other Jews in synagogues in Greek-speaking cities of the Roman Empire. The only time we read of a direct overture to Gentiles (other than the “God-fearers” who attended the synagogues but hesitated to undergo initiation into Judaism) was in the Areopagus, where people came precisely because they were open to new ideas. What comparable opportunities do we have today? None. And the philosophical assumptions that St. Paul shared with his audience no longer apply. We need a completely different strategy.”

    I mentioned the radical witness of Charles de Foucauld as one such strategy. He was willing to live authentically among people who didn’t “get” what he was about, and to study their language so that he could “translate” the Christian faith to them, and their culture to the Church and the wider world.

    He seemed a complete failure in his lifetime. But really, he was laying one of the stones on which a renewed Church must continue to build in our time.

    “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?” A high calling for every instance of “the Body of Christ in place” to live up to, and into.

    1. Yes! Jesse – I want to shout the Gospel with all of my life! (Je veux crier l’Évangile par toute ma vie!)
      And also, to be seen as the brother of all – the universal brother (Je veux habituer tous les habitants à me regarder comme leur frère, le frère universel).
      Always great to converse with you.
      Easter Season Blessings!

  2. Bosco,

    Thank you for this series of reflections. I knew the little sisters and brothers in Sydney when they had presences there and was influenced by Charles over the years. Never thought of going into the Sahara. I am now tempted!

    Blessings, Greg

    1. The Sahara, Greg, is amazing – but I don’t know what the current situation is there. Blessings.

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