November 30, 2017

Blessed Charles de Foucauld, Missionary and Priest

Bl. Charles de Foucauld

December 1st is the feast of Blessed Charles Eugène de Foucauld, also known as Fr. Charles de Jésus, a French Catholic religious and priest who lived among the Tuareg in the Sahara in Algeria. Fr. Foucauld was martyred in 1916 outside the door of the fort he built for the protection of the indigenous Tuareg villagers. His witness and writings led to the founding of the Little Brothers of Jesus Order.
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Blessed Charles de Foucauld was born in Strasbourg, France on September 15, 1858. Orphaned at the age of six, he and his sister Marie were raised by their grandfather in whose footsteps he followed by pursuing a military career. The recipient of a large inheritance, Charles lived a worldly life. His taste for the things of this world was well known and would result in the loss of his faith.

While serving in the French Army he was stationed for a time in Algeria. This was the beginning of his fascination with North Africa. Subsequent to his enlistment, he traveled throughout Morocco. Seeing the way Muslims expressed their faith stirred his heart and he began asking, "My God, if you exist, let me know you."

On his return to France, the warm, respectful welcome he received from his deeply Christian family, spurred Charles to renew his own religious commitments. On October 29, 1886, he spoke with Father Huvelin at St. Augustine’s Church. After confessing his sins and receiving holy communion, Charles experienced a spiritual epiphany. He wrote:  "As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone." He was then 28 years old.

Fr. Huvelin encouraged Charles to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The journey inspired Charles to imitate the "hidden life" of Jesus of Nazareth. This was the life Our Lord lived before His public ministry, a life characterized by silence, obscurity, humble work, and simple joys. Charles would spend seven years as a Trappist, first in France and then at Akbès in Syria. Later, he led a life of prayer and adoration, in solitude, near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.

In 1901, at the age of 43, he was ordained a priest and left for the Sahara as a missionary, living at first in Beni Abbès and later at Tamanrasset among the Tuaregs of the Hoggar. He wanted to be among those who were, "the furthest removed, the most abandoned." All those close to him found in him, "a universal brother." Out of respect for the culture and faith of those with whom he lived, he strived to "shout the Gospel with his life". "I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, 'If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?'"

On the evening of December 1, 1916, he was killed by a band of marauders who had encircled his house. Bl. Charles de Foucauld had always dreamed of sharing his vocation with others. After having written several rules for religious life, he came to the conclusion that this "life of Nazareth" could be led by all. Today the "spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld" encompasses several associations of the faithful, religious communities and secular institutes for the laity and priests.

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