We are anxiously waiting to hear when Charles de Foucauld will be canonized. The date should be announced soon. To help you know more about our spiritual father, here are the main points of his spirituality, as written by our founder Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling:
There are four basic elements of the spirituality of Br. Charles. The first is poverty. In order to be really free in this materialistic world it is necessary to divest oneself of that which is not necessary. For Br. Charles, that meant living a life of extreme poverty in imitation of the life of Christ and also as a sign that, for the Christian, life now is lived in expectation of what is to come, it is not an end in itself.
The second is contemplation. It is expressed specifically in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament as a direct way to seek the Lord and also in meditation on the gospels.
The third is the desert. It is in the desert that one is faced with the reality of who God is. He reveals Himself to those who wait for Him in the desert. And those who wait are made aware of their own weakness and inability to do anything without Him. So, time spent in solitude is a vital aspect of a follower of Br. Charles.
The final point of this spirituality is charity. This is expressed in being as far as possible a friend to all persons, in total availability and in hospitality.
Charles de Foucauld (“Br. Charles”) is the spiritual father of the Little Sisters and the Joseph House. Although he is not well known to many people, Br. Charles had a deep influence on our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling. She considered him a saint, and now he is close to being one in fact.
On May 3, 2021, at a meeting at the Vatican called an Ordinary Public Consistory, the cardinals voted to proceed with the canonization of Br. Charles along with six other beatified men and women. The vote was confirmed by Pope Francis, who has mentioned Br. Charles several times in his encyclicals and public addresses.
This Consistory vote was the last formal step in the process of approving Br. Charles’ canonization. Ordinarily, a date for the actual canonization would have been set at this time, but the Pope is postponing that because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The process of canonization is typically long, and the one for Br. Charles is no exception (he died more than a century ago in 1916). Written documents need to compiled and the person’s life has to be examined in detail. The holiness of his or her life has to be determined (and it is important to note that this doesn’t mean being perfect and without flaws–saints are products of their time in history like everyone else). When someone is canonized, he or she is declared to be a model for living the Christian life. A saint’s life has “universal” teaching value: people from all walks of life can learn something and be inspired.
The final pieces of evidence need to be bona fide miracles, proof that the proposed saint is in heaven interceding for us on earth. This is also what it means to be a canonized saint: someone the faithful can turn to for prayers.
Br. Charles was beatified in 2005 (allowing him to be called “Blessed”) after an Italian woman was cured of bone cancer that was attributed to his intercession. In order to be canonized and be considered a saint, a second miracle was needed. This is the story of that miracle.
On November 30, 2016, the day before the 100th anniversary of the death of Br. Charles, a 21-year-old man (whose name is Charle, without the “s”), was working as a carpenter’s apprentice on the renovation of the Chapel of the Lycée Saint Louis, a church in Saumur, France. This chapel happens to be very close to the military school that Br. Charles attended in his youth.
Charle was working above the vault when he fell about 50 feet, landing on a wooden bench. It shattered, and he was impaled by a piece of wood that pierced his left side just below his heart and came out the back underneath his rib cage.
Amazingly, Charle stood up and began to walk. Help was called and a helicopter arrived to take Charle to the hospital, but the piece of wood passing through his body prevented him from safely entering the craft. So he had to wait for an ambulance.
Meanwhile, the manager of the company that Charle worked for was alerted. He contacted people at his parish to get them to start praying. His parish was newly established in 2012 and is named after Blessed Charles de Foucauld! In preparation for his feast day on December 1, parishioners had already been praying a novena for his canonization. With news of the accident, hundreds of people began to pray in earnest, asking Blessed Charles to intercede for the young man. The following morning, his mother called the manager: her son was alive, the operation to remove the piece of wood was successful, and no organs were damaged! The accident should have been fatal, but nothing is impossible for God.
Charle spent only a week in the hospital. He suffered no long-term effects and returned to work several weeks later. Despite not being a practicing Christian himself, he is very happy that his recovery was recognized to be due to Br. Charles’ intercession. The pastor of the church in Saumur remarked, “When you know the life of Charles de Foucauld, it’s astonishing to see that the miracle attributed to him concerns someone who has no Christian faith…This echoes his missionary desire to go and to evangelize those who are not in the Church.”
Pope Francis approved the authenticity of this miracle on May 27, 2020. Now a year later, the saint-making process is complete. When it is safe to celebrate publicly, our newest saint will make his entrance: St. Charles de Foucauld!
Stories like this miracle are not unique. It is comforting to know that we are not alone, that the love and prayers of the people who have gone before us, whether they are official saints or not, accompany us through life.
By definition, a desert is an empty, arid wasteland. Some would say there is nothing to see. But the desert also brings clarity of vision, and with this clarity Charles de Foucauld saw deep into the mystery of Jesus.
In her book, Hidden in God: Discovering the Desert Vision of Charles de Foucauld, Bonnie Thurston describes the contours of this vision in way that will be meaningful to the spiritual journey of a wide variety of readers.
This vision has a geography: the heart of the book is a discussion of the three locations Foucauld understood to be central in the life of Jesus, namely, Nazareth, the desert, and public ministry. Thurston shows how these locations can serve as metaphors for aspects of the spiritual life. Indicative of spiritual realities, each location has its own graces and dangers, which Thurston illustrates with examples from the Bible and the life of Foucauld.
Thurston then helps the reader see how these locations can be a source of personal insight since they are places everyone will experience in one form or another. The modern seeker may never travel through an actual desert, for example, but may be intimately familiar with the harsh terrain of an internal desert existence. Using the journey and writings of Foucauld, Thurston guides the reader in connecting the concrete realities of life to the imitation of Christ.
The final chapter of the book is a consideration of the cross. As Foucauld knew, that is where everyone who follows Jesus will be led. No matter where we are, everyone has a cross to take up.
Thurston has lived with the mystery of Foucauld’s life for a long time. It has been so long she admits she can’t remember her first introduction to him.
Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) is considered to be an influential person in Church history, yet likely unknown to many people today. Thurston covers his life story to give context for his spiritual development. In some ways, it is a common story: Foucauld lost his faith as a young man, but after finding inspiration in an unexpected place he began a process of conversion that drew him to God. What is uncommon about his story is how his conversion was truly the beginning of a new way of life, both inside and out. Born into a life of privileged French nobility, Foucauld ended his earthly journey deep in the Sahara Desert, a poor hermit totally abandoned to the Will of God, his heart open to everyone as a “universal brother.”
As Thurston notes in the Introduction, her book can be used as a self-directed retreat, if one so chooses. Each chapter closes with questions to ponder and Scripture passages for further reflection. The book lends itself to meditative reading. The reader will probably want to pause and reflect even before reaching the end-of-chapter questions.
Foucauld remained a man of his time, and yet he also transcended his time in a way that was prophetic. He is “one of those seekers who periodically manage to reinvent the imitation of Christ” (Ellsberg). Hidden in God is a map for exploring how Foucauld speaks to us today. His life seems far removed from ours, but Thurston reveals how he is relevant and can teach us.
On May 27, 2020, the Vatican advanced the cause of Charles de Foucauld for canonization. He will be an official saint and hopefully become more widely known. For anyone looking for an introduction to Focauld, Thurston provides an excellent starting point. Even those who are familiar with Foucauld will find valuable insights into what moved the soul of this saintly man.
This book is also a helpful resource for the reader’s further study of Foucauld. Thurston includes ample endnotes and a list of additional books that may be of interest.
Foucauld never fulfilled his dream of starting a new religious community based on the life of Nazareth. His life planted a seed, however, and like the grain of wheat that must die to bear fruit (John 12:24), he has inspired the formation of communities and fraternities around the world in the years following his death. Our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, was greatly influenced by Foucauld, and his spirituality runs deep through our life and the ministry of the Joseph House. We are happy to recommend Bonnie Thurston’s book about our beloved Brother Charles.
Endorsements: “The is spiritual reading at its best.” – Lawrence S. Cunningham, University of Notre Dame
“Thurston offers fresh and honest insights into the spirituality of Blessed Charles…even for a longtime member of the spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld.” – Rev. Jerry Ragan, National Responsible of the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests
“I felt as if I was on a retreat with Blessed Charles as I journeyed with him through Jesus’ hidden years, desert life, and public ministry.” – Dana Greene, author of Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life
Publishing Details: Hidden in God: Discovering the Desert Vision of Charles de Foucauld Ave Maria Press (2016), 141 pages
Bonnie Thurston is an ordained minister, New Testament scholar, author, poet, and teacher. She is a founding member and past president of the International Thomas Merton Society.
Works Cited: Robert Ellsberg, “Who was Charles de Foucauld?” America: The Jesuit Review, 14 November 2005.
For many years (1977-2011), we operated Joseph House by the Sea, a book and gift store in Ocean City, Maryland. Our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, believed it was important “to have a place in the marketplace where people can come to get spiritual direction and guidance in their reading.” In that spirit, we continue offer recommendations for worthwhile items.
A canonized saint by definition is someone who practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace. Coming from all walks of life, they show us how any situation can be transformed by the light of the Gospel.
To honor the saints, we place them on a pedestal or enshrine them in stained glass, complete with a halo. We look up to them, and without realizing it, we often assume they must have been angels when they walked the earth. Did St. Francis of Assisi ever complain about dinner? Did Mother Teresa ever get irritated by having to wait for someone? It’s hard to think that they did.
In contrast, each one of us is aware of our daily struggles and faults. So often, it seems, we fall short of the mark so easily. The saints must have been different.
Or maybe not.
They were human beings like us, and if we look closely at their lives there is ample evidence to prove that.
Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) hasn’t been canonized yet, but he was beatified in 2005 (a step along the way). His life and spirituality are important to us at the Joseph House (you can read more about him here on our website).
On January 16, 1898, he wrote a long letter to his spiritual director, Father Huvelin. At the time, Charles was in the Holy Land, living as a simple laborer for a convent of nuns. His life had the appearance of contented peace.
Charles begins his letter by describing how he occupies his time. Everything seems ideal:
“My life goes on with great calm; in the daytime I work as long as there is light; in the morning and in the evening and during part of the night, I read and pray.”
But then Charles starts to get honest. He takes a hard look at his life, and he tells Fr. Huvelin how the outside – what people see – is not the whole story. His list of failings is precise (emphasis his).
“The essence of my confessions is this:
tepidity (badly made prayers, badly said Office, miserably poor attendance at Mass, presence of God badly kept during the day, etc);
slackness (laziness in rising…sometimes I lie down again instead of getting up at the first awakening);
greediness, gluttony (eating too much);
lack of charity (not praying enough and with sufficient fervor for my neighbor…not having sufficiently the habit of seeing Our Lord, of seeing the Christ-Child in everyone…thoughts contrary to charity, memories accompanied by severe judgments on certain persons I used to know);
pride, not a sufficiently low opinion of myself, not enough mistrust of myself; thoughts, budding aspirations of betterment;
not enough repentance for my past and present sins.
Not enough gratitude to God nor to men, these are the main points, but above all tepidity and slackness.”
Hmmm…maybe his letter is more like a mirror for the reader today. Very relatable indeed. Br. Charles was just as human as all of us.
The lesson of his confession, and of all the saints, is to put our trust in God, the One who can do everything we cannot.
And another definition of a saint is someone who never gave up.
The source of the letter is Soldier of the Spirit by Michel Carrouges (published in English in 1956, it is out of print). The illustration in the header is by René Follet and is from The Wonderful Life of Charles de Foucauld (1963), also out of print. Bottom photo by Rabanus Flavus / public domain.
Charles de Foucauld composed this prayer as he meditated on the death of Jesus on the Cross:
“This was the last prayer of our Master, our Beloved. May it also be ours. And may it be not only that of our last moment, but also of our every moment:
“Father, I abandon myself into Your hands; do with me what You will. Whatever You may do, I thank You: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only Your will be done in me, and in all Your creatures— I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into Your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to You with all the love of my heart, for I love You Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into Your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for You are my Father.”
Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling made this prayer central to the spirituality of our community:
“The first prayer we say every day is the Abandonment Prayer of Brother Charles, which is a very beautiful prayer in which we give ourselves totally to God.”
“Abandonment simply means that you give yourself completely to God in such a way that you trust Him with everything that He has in mind for you, and that each morning you just give yourself to Him completely, and you’re at ease and at rest because you know that He is going to take care of you. Maybe He’s not going to do it your way, but He’s going to do it His way, which is a lot better.”
“Sometimes you’re a little afraid of what is He going to want to do. You don’t always feel like you’re ready for it, but that’s what takes faith. It just takes faith. We like to make our own plans…”
“I can assure you there were many times when I thought that I could not go on with some of the things that I had to bear. It’s just trust. And if you can trust, God will certainly take care of this matter, but give yourself to Him. That’s what we mean by abandonment. It’s when you don’t believe, believe anyhow.”
Our founder used to say, “A community is not so much a group of people living together to love Christ as it is a group of people loving Christ together.”
Being together physically to form a community is not always possible. Distance can keep people apart, not to mention their commitments and circumstances.
Now, thanks to the Internet, there is a new online community called the Companions of Jesus of Nazareth. It hopes to fill a need for those who desire a community in order to “love Christ together.”
This community is open to people from all walks of life – men and women, married, single, lay, ordained, and a variety of faith traditions. What unites them is a desire to become more like Jesus through an understanding of the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld, who is an inspiration for the ministry of the Joseph House.
The Companions of Jesus is under the leadership of Rev. Leonard Tighe, an authority on the life of Br. Charles and a long-time friend of the Little Sisters.
The website has more information. Check it out – this may be something you’ve been looking for:
It is ironic that in our age of instant electronic communication many people feel isolated. The Companions of Jesus is using that technology to bring people together, all the while each person is living his or her own “Nazareth,” the particular place where God has planted them.
A sense of belonging is such a help to our spiritual growth. Jean Vanier, a pioneer in the healing power of communities, said it well:
We have been drawn together by God to be a sign of the Resurrection and a sign of unity in this world where there is so much division and inner and outer death. We feel small and weak, but we are gathered together to signify the power of God who transforms death into life. That is our hope, that God is doing the impossible: changing death to life inside of each of us, and that perhaps, through our community, each one of us can be agents in the world of this transformation of brokenness into wholeness, and of death into life.
Every religious community has its own charism, a particular way of life and a spirit that forms its identity. In setting the charism of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling looked to an obscure French priest who lived from 1858 to 1916. His name was Charles de Foucauld.
Charles spent his final years in the Sahara Desert, seeking to imitate the “hidden life” that Jesus lived in Nazareth. Emptied of pride and vanity, Charles embraced his littleness, eager to be non-threatening and approachable to others. He welcomed everyone as a “universal brother.”
Charles represented a new kind of missionary, one who practiced a ministry of presence. Although he wrote a rule for religious communities, it was considered too strict to be livable. Elements of his spirituality, however, can be applied to any number of circumstances, and in this way his life became the blueprint for the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.
Sr. Mary Elizabeth was already in tune with what defined Charles: love for the poor, faithfulness to the Gospel, simplicity of lifestyle, and a preference for silent adoration of the Eucharist. These became the identifying marks of the community she founded in 1974, and Charles is considered its founder in spirit. For the remainder of her life Sr. Mary Elizabeth modeled for us how to live his spirituality.
We are half a world away from the Sahara, and more than a century has passed since Charles’ death, but Sr. Mary Elizabeth showed us how to embody a key component of his message, which is, as he wrote:
“Let us preach the Gospel in silence and with words….”
“It is the responsibility of all to preach in silence.
As for preaching with words, some should do it more than others,
but there are very few who should not do it at all.
This is according to each one’s vocation.”
Sr. Mary Elizabeth made preaching the Gospel her life’s work.
What made it natural for her was that she let the Gospel shape every aspect of her life. Anything she might possibly call her own she gave back to God. He had access to everything.
Sister exemplified the observation of St. Vincent de Paul: “If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts.”
She had a few big moments in her life, but like everyone else her days were filled with little ones. She did the same things, with the same people, day in and day out. She “preached” a lot in those moments, giving witness to the love and mercy of God by being loving and merciful herself. Charles said his goal was to have people look at him and say, “If that is the servant, imagine what the Master must be like!” Sister took that approach, too.
For personal reflection: What am I preaching by the way I live my life? I might be the only sermon someone else hears today.
During a retreat he made in 1902, Charles de Foucauld wrote down his resolutions for more closely imitating Jesus. He understood that we are what we do. The desires of the heart can become just fantasy if they are not grounded in the reality of our behavior.
Charles was driven to imitate the humility of Jesus with great zeal. His example inspires our ministry at the Joseph House, but it is just as important for our day-to-day living. Each day, each one of us will find opportunities to love others as Jesus loves them. Through gentle acts of service our love becomes manifest.
The “Fraternity” that Charles refers to in the excerpt below was his name for his hermitage in Beni Abbes, a village in the desert region of western Algeria. He welcomed everyone to his abode as a “universal brother.”
In the “Fraternity” I must always be humble, gentle and ready to serve as were Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the holy house at Nazareth. To serve others, I need gentleness, humility, abjection and charity.
I must wash the linen of the poor (especially on Maundy Thursday) and regularly clean their rooms, doing as much as possible myself. As far as possible, I myself and no one else must do the lowest work of the house, keeping the parts occupied by the native population clean, taking every service on myself, to be like Jesus who lived among his apostles as “one who serves.”
We must be very gentle towards the poor and everyone else, for this too is humility. When I can do so, I must cook for the poor, and carry food and drink to them, not leaving that service to others.
In every sick person I should see, not a human being, but Jesus, and so should show him respect, love, compassion, joy and gratitude at being able to serve him – zeal and gentleness. I should serve the sick as I do the poor, making myself do the lowliest services for them all, as Jesus washed the apostles’ feet.
During his years spent in the Sahara Desert, Charles de Foucuald (1858-1916) was a solitary European and Christian presence among the indigenous Tuaregs of the region. Wanting to know them better, Charles learned their stories and poetry and worked on a French-Tuareg dictionary. He drew detailed pictures of everyday Tuareg life, from musical instruments to hair braids. He wanted to know the soul of the people. He wanted to be their brother.
Rene Voillaume, founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, said that Charles joined “his total dedication to the welfare of the Tuaregs [with] an attentive, realistic charity and a very strong sense of justice.” Loving the Tuaregs was Charles’ school for loving God.
The Tuaregs, these nomadic tribes with their distinctive blue robes, remain a mystery to many people today. Below is an interview with a modern-day Tuareg living in France. Moussa Ag Assarid was born in northern Mali around 1975. The desire for additional education led him to France in 1999. He has worked as a journalist, actor, tour guide, and writer. Moussa wrote an autobiographical account of his journeys in a book, There are No Traffic Jams in the Desert: Chronicles of a Tuareg in France.
Moussa was interviewed in 2011 by Victor M. Amelain for ARIEL Magazine (the link to the original article is below). This candid conversation gives insight into the world-view of a people who were important in the life of Charles, the spiritual father of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters.
An interview with Moussa Ag Assarid:
I don’t know my age. I was born in the Sahara desert, with no papers! I was born in a nomadic camp of Tuaregs, between Timbuktu and Gao, in the north of Mali. I have been a shepherd of camels, goats, sheep and cows for my father. Today I study Management in the University of Montpellier. I am a bachelor. I serve as an advocate for the Tuareg shepherds.
What a beautiful headdress!
It is a fine cotton fabric: it allows me to cover my face in the desert when the wind blows sand, and allows me to continue to see and to breathe through it.
It is a beautiful blue color.
We Tuaregs have long been called “the blue men” because of this color. Interestingly the fabric loses the color and transfers some of the blue ink onto our skin.
How do you get this intense blue?
From a plant called indigo, mixed with other natural pigments. The blue, for the Tuaregs, is the color of the world.
It’s the dominant color, of the sky, the roof of our home
Who are the Tuareg?
Tuareg means ‘abandoned’, because we are an old nomadic tribe of the desert. We are lonely and proud: masters of the desert, they call us. Our ethnic group is Amazigh (or Berber), and our alphabet is the Tifinagh.
How many are there of you?
Approximately three million, the majority still are nomadic. But the population is decreasing. A wise man said it is necessary for a tribe to disappear to realize they existed. I am working to preserve this tribe.
What do they do for a living?
We shepherd camels, goats, sheep, cows and donkeys in an infinite kingdom of silence.
Is the desert really so silent?
If you are on your own in that silence you hear your heart beat. There is no better place to meet yourself.
What memories do you have of your childhood in the desert?
I wake up with the sun. The goats of my father are there. They give us milk and meat, and we take them were there is water and grass. My great-grandfather did it, and my grandfather, and my father, and me. There was nothing else in the world than that, and I was very happy!
Really? It doesn’t sound very exciting.
It is. At the age of seven you can go alone away from the compound, and for this you are taught the important things—to smell the air, to listen, to see, to orient with the sun and the stars…and to be guided by the camel if you get lost. He will take you where there is water.
This sounds like valuable knowledge, no doubt.
Everything is simple and profound there. There are very few things, and each one has enormous value.
So that world and this one are very different.
There, every little thing gives happiness. Every touch is valuable. We feel great joy just by touching each other, being together. There, nobody dreams of becoming, because everybody already is.
What shocked you most on your first trip to Europe?
I saw people running in the airport. In the desert you only run if a sandstorm is approaching! It scared me, of course.
They were going after their baggage.
Yes, that was it. I also saw signs with naked women. Why this lack of respect for the woman? I wondered. Then at the hotel I saw the first faucet of my life: I saw the water run and wanted to cry.
Because of the waste, the abundance?
Every day of my life had been involved in seeking water. When I see the ornamental fountains here and there, I still feel an intense pain.
In the early 90s there was a big drought, animals died, and we became sick. I was about twelve years old and my mother died. She was everything to me! She used to tell me stories and taught me to tell stories. She taught me to be myself.
What happened to your family?
I persuaded my father to let me go to school. Every day I walked fifteen kilometers, until one teacher gave me a bed to sleep in and a woman gave me food when I walked by her house. I then understood what was happening; my mother was helping me.
Where did you get interested in school?
A few years before the Paris-Dakar motor rally came through the compound and a journalist dropped a book from her backpack. I picked it up and gave it to her. She gave it to me and talked to me about that book: “The Little Prince.” I promised myself that I would be able to read it one day.
And you did.
Yes, and because of that I won a scholarship to study in France.
A Tuareg going to college!
Ah, what I most miss here is the camel milk. And the wood fires. And walking barefoot on the warm sand. And the stars. We watched them every night, every star is different, just as every goat is different. Here, in the evenings, you watch TV.
That is true. What do you dislike the most here?
You have everything, and it is still not enough for you. You complain. In France people complain all the time! You chain yourself to a bank; everyone is anxious to have things, to have possessions. Everyone is in a rush. In the desert there are no traffic jams, and do you know why? Because there nobody is interested in getting ahead of other people.
Tell me about a moment of deep happiness for you in the desert.
It happens every day, two hours before sunset. The heat decreases, there is still no cold air, and men and animals slowly return to the compound, and their profiles are painted against a sky that is pink, blue, red, yellow, green.
That sounds fascinating.
It’s a magical moment. We all get into the tents and we boil tea. Sitting in silence we listen to the sound of the boiling water. We are immersed in calmness, with our the heart beating to the rhythm of the boiling water, potta potta potta……
Yes…here you have watches; there, we have time.
By Timm Guenther (Timm Busshaus) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
BR. CHARLES AND OUKSEM AG CHIKKAT
Archives of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary
By H. Grobe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Charles de Foucauld, the French priest of the Sahara Desert, spent his last day within the walls of his fortified hermitage in Tamanrasset, 4,600 feet above sea level in the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria.
Toward evening he heard three knocks on the door. Charles opened it expecting a delivery of mail, but instead bandits roughly dragged him outside. They tied his hands behind his back and forced him to kneel. His home, his sanctuary of prayer, was ransacked.
The approach of two Arab soldiers on camelback interrupted the thievery. The young man who was guarding Charles panicked. He pulled the trigger of his rifle and shot Charles in the head. Charles made no sound. He slowly crumpled to the sandy earth and died. The date was December 1, 1916.
Although he is not widely known, the life of Charles de Foucauld has influenced people around the world, including Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, the founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.
Preparations to mark the 100th anniversary of his death have already begun. A series of events are planned for the coming year, the first of which, the official opening of the centenary year, already took place on October 31 in Nazareth. Organizers picked this day because Charles’ conversion occurred in late October of 1886.
Journalist Giorgio Bernadelli, who writes about Church affairs for the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, explains the significance of Nazareth:
The choice of Nazareth as the hub for the centenary celebrations is obviously not coincidental: it was here that de Foucauld experienced a fundamental turning point in his spiritual journey, living as a hermit in the Poor Clares convent from 1897 to 1900. He developed his ideal of following Jesus in his ‘hidden life’ too, fraternally sharing the life of those who lived in what today we would call the peripheries of the world, as the little village of Galilee – which became the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation – must have been two thousand years ago.
And so, in Nazareth this evening, there will be music and a series of readings from the diary of Charles de Foucauld, with accounts of the three years he spent in the city of the Annunciation. The Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, Mgr. Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo will be present at this evening’s event being held in the Holy Family School operated by the Don Guanella religious institute. (1)
Msgr. Marcuzzo offered his reflections on the spiritual activities that opened the centenary year:
This evening we prayed for peace, reconciliation and brotherhood in Nazareth. We prayed in our villages and in our cities; and we asked God to help us practice more the teachings from the Bible as well as the writings of Charles de Foucauld: we want to experience universal brotherhood for a better life, because we are all brothers, sons of God.
Let’s then pray and ask for his intercession in order to obtain healing, especially healing from indifference to men or indifference to miracles. We are weak in the practice of our faith and of the Gospel. We must take the Gospel more seriously, just as the Blessed Charles de Foucauld used to say, and we have to live the word of God in the most profound way. (2)
This year of the commemoration of the death of Charles de Foucauld presents an opportunity to study his life and devise ways to bring its fruitfulness into the world today. “It encourages us to make a renewed effort to change our life in order to follow Jesus more faithfully in living the Gospel and to ‘turn religion into love’ in very concrete ways, each in our own Nazareth and according to our circumstances.” (3)
Charles abandoned his life into the hands of God. He sought the lowest place, and gave humble, loving service to the poor and marginalized. His home in the desert became known as a place of brotherhood, a “fraternity,” where everyone – whether rich or poor, Christian, Jew, Muslim, or atheist – was welcome.
His witness has only become more relevant as time goes on.