It is nice to find awareness in unexpected places. In a newspaper, for example. In today’s Volkskrant I found a background story behind a new movie “Des Dieux Et Des Hommes”. It depicts the true story of seven Trappist monks who choose not to flee from their remote Algerian monastery when the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) Muslim order the exile of all foreigners in 1996. The brave monks do not want leave the Algerian villagers behind, with whom they have been living for decades and for who the monastery serves as a hospital. The expected consequence is that they will be killed. And that’s what happened.
In the newspaper article the 73 year old Brother Armand Veilleux is interviewed. This Belgian monk was the last one who saw his fellow monks alive. Now what I would like to share today is not about the movie (although I believe we all should see it) but the words of this monk. He tells the journalist that he was very much against the idea of making a movie about this terrible incident but feels that “the result is excellent”. “It is a very correct vision on what happened there. I think it is wise that the director doesn’t make implications about who killed the brothers. Indirectly, the movie will contribute to finding the one’s who are guilty”. The monk continues: “For me it is important that the truth will be known because we shouldn’t accuse anybody falsely. We live in an age where the Islam is demonized; in my eyes the Islam is not a violent religion. But the most important reason to find out who killed the brothers, is that the violence in Algeria cost the lives of 200.000 people, mostly anonymous victims of Algerian soldiers or extremists. We belong to the few survivors who live in a country that has the freedom and the means to have a proper investigation. We will do that, in their names as well”.
Imagine having seven of your friends slaughtered and having the strength, the compassion, the wisdom and the dignity to motivate so beautifully why this story should be told. Brother Armand holds no grudge against the Islam nor against Muslims. He is open about his strong initial resistance against the movie and humble enough to admit he misjudged the integrity of the director. His justice is not about getting his revenge but about giving the less fortunate an opportunity to heal.
What a relief to find such a sincere voice in something impermanent as a newspaper. Brother Armand embodies something that we so dearly miss in the representatives of the church: true wisdom and compassion. I suppose it is unlikely that we will hear more about Brother Armand. I assume who will go back to his quiet life of prayer after the attention for movie fades away. He won’t become a pope, bishop or cardinal as he will not engage in politics nor strive for power. But I’m thankful we heard his voice today. Thank you, Brother Armand.