On May 3, 2021, Pope Francis decided to canonize Charles de Foucauld without making the date public. The modification of the canonization procedures, simplified and accelerated since Pope John Paul II, leaves serious doubts about their value. But one thing is certain: Fr. de Foucauld is not the father of modern ecumenism, quite the contrary.
At a time marked by the inexorable rise of Islamism in France and around the world, the contribution of Charles de Foucauld, an eminent specialist in the Muslim world of his time, is just as germane in 2021, as evidenced by the letter written to René Bazin, a member of the Académie Française, in July 1916, a few months before his assassination, which occurred on the following December 1st.
The moderns would like to make Fr. de Foucauld a precursor of Vatican II ecumenism. But to those who read with open eyes, Fr. de Foucauld remains singularly distant from the spirit of the Abu Dhabi Declaration on Universal Fraternity, signed in 2019 by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. (Egypt), Ahmad Al-Tayyeb.
Tamanrasset, by Insalah, via Biskra, Algeria, July 29, 1916.
You have written to me asking that I might usefully tell you about the missionary life among the Muslim populations.…
I - Missionary life among Muslim populations
Usually each mission includes several priests, at least two or three.... I am not in a position to describe this life to you, which, in my solitude in the midst of very scattered populations and still very distant from mind and heart, is not mine ...
Isolated missionaries like me are very rare. Their role is to prepare the way, so that the missions which replace them will find a friendly and confident population, souls somewhat prepared for Christianity, and, if possible, a few Christians.…
We have to become accepted by the Muslims, become their trusted friend, to whom they can go when they are in doubt or in pain, on whose affection, wisdom, and justice they absolutely count. It is only when they get there that one can do good for their souls. To inspire absolute confidence in our truthfulness, in the honesty of our character, and in our better education, to give an idea of our religion by our goodness and our virtues, to be in affectionate relations with as many souls as possible, Muslim or Christian, native or French, is our first duty: it is only after having fulfilled it well, long enough, that we can do good.
My life therefore consists of being as connected as possible with those who surround me and of rendering all the services that I can. As intimacy becomes established, I speak, always or almost always privately, of the good Lord, briefly, giving everyone only what they can bear, flee from sin, perfect act of love, perfect act of contrition, the two great commandments of the love of God and of neighbor, examination of conscience, meditation on the last ends, at the sight of the creature think of God, etc., giving to each according to his strength and advancing slowly, cautiously.
- The goal of this “solitary” mission is clearly fixed by Fr. de Foucauld: he wants nothing other than the conversion of those around him. But he gives them what they can absorb according to their state, in order to prepare them to receive more. His thought is similar to that of St. Francis of Assisi who describes these two modes of the apostolate in his first rule.
There are very few isolated missionaries doing this pioneering role; I wish there were many: any pastor in Algeria, Tunisia, or Morocco, any military chaplain, any pious lay Catholic (like Priscilla and Aquila) could be….
There is a whole tender and discreet propaganda to be made among the infidel natives, propaganda which wants above all kindness, love, and prudence, like when we want to bring a relative who has lost his faith back to God. ...
II - How to make the peoples of our African empire more French
- In the following passage, Fr. de Foucauld demonstrates a prophetic political realism.
My thought is that if, little by little, slowly, the Muslims of our colonial empire in North Africa do not convert, there will be a nationalist movement similar to that of Turkey: an intellectual elite will be formed in the big cities, educated in the French style, without having the French spirit or heart, an elite which will have lost all Islamic faith, but which will keep the label so as to be able to influence the masses through it.…
National or barbarian sentiment will be exalted in the educated elite: when they find the opportunity, for example during France’s difficulties at home or abroad, they will use Islam as a lever to raise the ignorant masses, and will seek to create an independent African Muslim empire.... If we are not able to make Frenchmen out of these peoples, they will drive us out. The only way they can become French is to become Christian.
In fraternally recommending myself and our Tuaregs to your prayers, and thanking you again for your letter, I ask you to accept the expression of my religious and respectful devotion.
Your humble servant in the Heart of Jesus.
Charles de Foucauld