Saint of the Day – 1 December – Blessed Charles of Jesus/ Charles de Foucauld OCSO (1858-1916) – Priest, Martyr, Religious Brother, Apostle of the Holy Eucharistic, of Prayer and Charity, Writer, Founder of various groups and fraternities for both religious and the laity, that include Jesus Caritas, the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of Jesus, among a total of ten religious congregations and nine associations of spiritual life. Though originally French in origin, these groups have expanded to include many cultures and their languages on all continents. Blessed Charles was born on 15 September 1858 in Strasbourg, France as Charles Eugenie de Foucauld and died by being shot on 1 December 1916 at Tamanrasset, Algeria.
Charles de Foucauld (Brother Charles of Jesus) was orphaned at the age of six, he and his sister Marie were raised by their grandfather in whose footsteps he followed by taking up a military career.
He lost his faith as an adolescent. His taste for easy living was well known to all and yet he showed that he could be strong willed and constant in difficult situations. He undertook a risky exploration of Morocco (1883-1884). Seeing the way Muslims expressed their faith questioned him and he began repeating, “My God, if you exist, let me come to know You.”
On his return to France, the warm, respectful welcome he received from his deeply Christian family made him continue his search. Under the guidance of Fr Huvelin he re-discovered God in October 1886. He was then 28 years old. “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for Him alone.”
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land revealed his vocation to him – to follow Jesus in His life at Nazareth. He spent 7 years as a Trappist, first in France and then at Akbès in Syria. Later he began to lead a life of prayer and adoration, alone, near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.
Ordained a priest at 43 (1901) he left for the Sahara, living at first in Beni Abbès and later at Tamanrasset among the Tuaregs of the Hoggar. This region is the central part of the Sahara with the Ahaggar Mountains (the Hoggar) immediately to the west. Foucauld used the highest point in the region, the Assekrem, as a place of retreat. He wanted to be among those who were, “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.” He wanted all who drew close to him to find in him a brother, “a universal brother.” In a great respect for the culture and faith of those among whom he lived, his desire was 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?’”
Living close to the Tuareg and sharing their life and hardships, he made a ten-year study of their language and cultural traditions. He learned the Tuareg language and worked on a dictionary and grammar. His dictionary manuscript was published posthumously in four volumes and has become known among Berberologists for its rich and apt descriptions.
On 1 December 1916, de Foucauld was dragged from his hermitage by a gang of armed bandits led by El Madani ag Soba, who was connected with the Senussi Bedouin. They intended to kidnap de Foucauld but when the gang was disturbed by two guardsmen, one startled bandit (15-year-old Sermi ag Thora) shot him through the head, killing him instantly. The murder was witnessed by sacristan and servant Paul Embarek, an African Arab former slave liberated and instructed by de Foucauld.
The French authorities continued for years searching for the bandits involved. In 1943 El Madani fled French forces in Libya to the remote South Fezzan. Sermi ag Thora was apprehended and executed at Djanet in 1944.
De Foucauld was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on 13 November 2005 and is listed as a martyr in the liturgy of the Catholic Church.
He 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 both lay people and priests.
In 1950, the colonial Algerian government issued a postage stamp with his image. The French government did the same in 1959.
In 2013, partly inspired by the life of de Foucauld a community of consecrated brothers or monacelli (little monks) was established in Perth, Australia, called the Little Eucharistic Brothers of Divine Will.