In an interview with the Fides news service, Bishop Claude Rault of Laghouat said "We need to inform ourselves, and not take everything that is proposed by the press and television as a true representation of the Muslim world. They show only the negative aspects, and instead it is important to have objective information about what happens in Islamic countries." He noted, "I am just passing through Rome, but I notice that every time I come to Europe there is some form of suspicion against Muslims. Unfortunately there is a lot of ignorance in both communities, which feeds the mutual fear. Instead, one must meet half way to create bonds of friendship, in order to be able to form another image of the other."
"I have been living in Algeria since 1970 and I can say that I enjoy a climate of sincere friendship that has allowed me to allay fears among the two communities. We have an excellent relationship with the local population that has lasted for decades. There is an Islamist trend, but it is marginal in relation to the whole population," said the bishop, who belongs to the Missionaries of Africa. The order of priests and brothers has long been known as the 'White Fathers' because of the color of the cassocks they once wore in the tropical heat of the African continent.
The diocese of Laghouat includes all the Saharan part of Algeria, bordering Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya and south of Tunisia, as well as Western Sahara. Tindouf is part of the territory of the diocese, in which 150,000 Sahrawi refugees have been living in camps for more than 30 years. "In Tindouf we manage two programs: one for nutrition in favor of women, and one aimed at teaching French, that we were forced to stop for internal reasons regarding the situation of the camps," said Bishop Rault.
The Catholic community in his diocese is miniscule, being made up of 100-150 people who inhabit an area of two million square kilometres, with a population of about 4 million inhabitants. "The Catholic presence is made up of small communities ranging from a small monastery with 3 or a religious to a community with maximum thirty people. Our relationships always revolve round the Muslim world that welcomes us. Our women religious for example, together with Muslim Algerian women, are engaged in a series of activities in favor of women: from sewing and embroidery courses to activities in favor of families where there are disabled people. Finally we help some associations in the creation of kindergartens " said the bishop.
"The religious operate some libraries: a large library of study on the Sahara, attended by researchers, and two libraries that lend books to students, to whom we also offer linguistic help in French, English, Italian and Spanish," said Bishop Rault. "The figure of Charles de Foucauld is still very present in the Sahara . There are several contemplative communities of Petits Frères de Jesus, Petites Soeurs de Jesus, Petites Soeurs de Sacre Coeur, and Petits Frères de l'Evangile that have a very good relationship with the Algerians. " Father Charles de Foucauld was a 19th century missionary who was a French nobleman and army officer who abandoned his frenetic secular life for a life of evangelizing among the poorest people of North Africa. He was eventually to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Muslim people he had served.
These communities have been marked by the 1996 murder of seven Catholic monks in Tibhirine. The award-winning 2010 movie 'Of God's and Men' recounted the tragedy. "One cannot separate the tragedy of the monks of Tibhirine from what has happened in Algeria at the time," said Bishop Rault. "Algeria has suffered a great deal for a 10-year civil war. In this period there were approximately 150,000 deaths. We cannot forget these dead people when it comes to the monks of Tibhirine. It is often forgotten that also 93 imams were assassinated because they opposed to violence, as well as about seventy journalists. Fortunately we came out of this tragedy, and we must recognize that President Bouteflika has done much to stop the violence and give the Country real peace," concluded the bishop.
The monks in question were murdered in circumstances that are as yet obscure. The Algerian government attributed the murders to anti-government guerrilla forces, but subsequent testimony has emerged that may implicate the government.