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Living among the Tuareg

(Articolo di Fabio Cittadini) Charles de Foucauld was born in Strasbourg in 1858. He received a religious education, but at sixteen moves away from the faith. The absence of great ideals makes him choose a military career. He was a bad soldier intolerant to discipline. Charles instead was looking more for the “sweet life” than for the military life. Often he escaped the barracks to go to enjoy with his friends in a luxuriously furnished apartment that he had inherited. He has also had a girlfriend: Mimi. After being strongly rebuked by superiors he decided to leave his regiment.

The “black sheep” of the family de Foucald, decided to retrace his steps when he learns that his friends are quelling an insurgency in Algeria. Obtained reintegration, he reached his fellow soldiers. This time, surprisingly all, he acts as a soldier brave and disciplined. But, when all praised him for the existential change, he leaves the army and settles in Paris. The Algerian experience had changed him profoundly. Charles wants to learn more about the traditions, customs and people of Africa. Improvised explorer and geographer, he began to travel a lot. His travels and his findings reveal important because they helped to make a more precise geographical maps of North Africa.

In Paris he receives the gold medal of the Geographical Society for his achievements. So he is happy, but not satisfied! His continuous inner disturbances led him even further. Helped by a skilled spiritual guide, the abbot Huvelin, Charles found God who had “lost” in youth. In January of 1889, he entered the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of the Snows in the diocese of Viviers where he spent six years. But he is not able to find what he is looking for. So he goes to Rome, obtaining by the general of his order to go to live in Nazareth, as an unknown workman.

Saying that “Nazareth is everywhere”, after being ordained a priest, in 1901 he moved to Beni-Abbes, at the borders between Algeria and Morocco. Here he builds a small hermitage – ” Kaua’i ” (i. e. “brotherhood”) –  where he spent the time praying, working and welcoming anyone. In 1905, he moved to Tamarasset, among the Tuareg, with whom he decided to share the miserable life. Gradually he becomes a friend of the Tuareg. He becomes their brother. He named himself a “little brother” that lives not among them, but with them, becoming himself a Tuareg! He translated the Bible into Tuareg language, writing also a grammar and a dictionary of Tuareg language. He provided women with the tools for knitting and he strived so that the son of the chief of the tribe could be educated in France; wherever there is a need, there is Charles! His religious dialogue with the Tuareg is far removed from any proselytizing. His idea of dialogue was that of his friend Luois Massignon, one of the precursors of the confrontation between Christians, Muslims and Jews .

Unfortunately Charles, following the tension created by the resurgent colonialism in Algeria, is accidentally killed on 1 December 1916 by a young Tuareg. Brother Charles was beatified November 3, 2005 by Benedict XVI. Two aspects of his life can be highlighted.

The love of a God who became flesh and lived for about thirty years in Nazareth is at the center of his vocation. He decided to imitate Jesus in his everyday life and in the poverty of his earthly existence. To him was important to seek always the last place, to be the most despised of men. Being brother of the Tuareg was for him to become universal brother of all those who are abandoned, poor, needy.

Simone Venturini


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