2016-12-27 14:56:00

Archb. of Algiers: our Church of dialogue and encounter

(Vatican Radio) On Christmas Eve Pope Francis appointed Paul Desfarges, Archbishop of Algiers.

The 72-year-old Jesuit French-Algerian was at the head of the Catholic Diocese of Constantine and Hippo in Algeria since 2009.

Archbishop Desfarges spent nearly 30 years in Constantine, where he taught psychology at the University there. He was given Algerian nationality in 1982. He also acted as Jesuit Superior in Algiers until his nomination as Bishop by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Sara Bakaloglou, Desfarges talks about the life of the Christian minority in the Muslim nation and about his joy for his new, important, nomination:

“It is a challenge but at the same time a grace. In everyday life here in Algiers we enjoy a good [interreligious] relationship: a relationship of closeness, collaboration and even friendship” he says.

Archbishop Desfarges says his community is a witness of good cohabitation, possibly because it unfolds day by day in big and small things.

“We do not have to make a special effort to make it happen!” he says.

He speaks of how Pope Francis, during the Algerian Bishops’ last ‘ad limina’ visit told them: “You are witnesses of Christ’s mercy” and this, he says, is Christ’s mercy: “It is the apostleship of goodness as Charles de Foucault would say. And our joy is in service”.

Desfarges says that his vocation and that of his brother bishops in Algieria is "to be Church for all".

The Archbishop goes on to explain that the Church in Algiers counts a great number of students from Sub Saharan Africa, as well as communities made up of foreign professionals and diplomats who work in the country.

“For this reason it is a very international Catholic Church. […] It is very dynamic” he says.

One of Pope Francis’ messages that Desfarges says he feels most meaningful for his particular mission is that of reaching out to the peripheries.

“The Pope speaks of peripheries; we are in the peripheries” he says.

Archbishop Desfarges says that he has discovered that his particular ‘periphery’ is an ordinary place of mercy, where, once again, “we are not the only actors, but witnesses of our Muslim brothers and sisters who enrich us with their welcome, who give us of themselves,  are open to dialogue and encounter”.

“I know that on Christmas night many Muslim friends went to our Churches, certainly not to try and convert us, but simply to see how Christians worship… this too is a way to get to know each other. We are very happy for this! In a world in which tension between Muslims and the West, between Muslims and Christians seems to be growing, there is a place in which it is possible to give life to something different…” he says.

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