Algerian Account


OLA Sisters in Orán, Algeria share some snippets on the life and experiences of Muslims and Christians in the north African country.

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Members of the OLA Community in Orán, Algeria.

In Ireland, the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th is also referred to as ‘Nollaig na mBan’ or ‘Women’s Christmas’. It is a day when society gives thanks to the women of our world for the contribution that they make across the globe. Over the past one hundred and forty years, many Irish OLA Sisters have followed their missionary star to Africa to be of service in the fields of healthcare, education and pastoral works. The OLA Sisters have had a presence in Algeria for many years. Today, there have two OLA communities – Orán and Hennaya - in the north African country where Christians are unable to practise their faith openly and are forbidden from promoting the Christian faith. Despite the challenges, great signs of inspiration and beams of hope are evident on the ground. Below, the OLA Sisters in Orán share some insights into the lives of Christians and Muslims in the second largest city of the north African country.

 

A Church for all

Here is an account of Kader, a young Muslim migrant from Ivory Coast working in Orán for Doctors Without Borders – an NGO who help migrants. Someone asks him: “Why did you go to the church on arriving in Algeria?”,  to which he replied: “I am a Muslim from Ivory Coast. In my country, nearly all children remain close to the Church and are accustomed to participating in celebrations because there is good music. During the summer, we go to the oratory to take part in different activities that they organize. I know that the Church takes in everyone. I knew that it would be good if I came across a Catholic Church on my migrant journey (to Algeria). I knew I could knock on the door of the church and it would be opened. The Church hears us all. In the church we can find help. In my heart I knew it". How beautiful is this Church, mother of humanity.

 

Christian and Muslim Friendships

Today is the day that the (OLA) community of Hennaya opens their doors to friends and neighbours to greet Sr. Berndaette, who on November 2nd, permanently left the Algerian mission to return to her native country of France. One woman who came to greet Sr. Bernadette said: “Sister, now that you won’t be here for Christmas, I’ve made you a Christmas cake". An incredible moment between a Muslim woman and her great friend – Sr. Bernadette. Perhaps these gestures don’t mean a great deal to those of you reading these lines but there was a time here when it was prohibited to make a Christmas cake. For that reason, the gesture by this woman showed courage, openness and great friendship.

 

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The craftswomen at the Christmas Fair in the Pierre Claverie Centre, Orán.
 

‘What gives you the strength to forgive?’

At a recent “Faith and Life” gathering, an Algerian lady shared her experience of Christian life with the group. She explained how she went to the fuel pumps to fill her car tank and as she got out of her car she realized that she had rosary beads on her wrist. To avoid any bother, she went back to the car and took them off. A man, who had been observing her, then spat in her direction. She looked at him without saying anything and smiled. He then started his car and came to a halt beside her car to enquire: “What gives you the strength to forgive? How could you forgive me?” She again does not respond but points to the cross on the rosary beads. The man takes off his cap, politely salutes her and heads away pensively - wonderful testimony by a women who, for different reasons, could not be baptized but lives the Gospel deeply.

 

A good deed never forgotten

Sr. Chantal and I recently went to the radiology centre of Doctor Bendemered to ask for assistance regarding the health of migrants and the poor people. While we awaited the doctor, a nurse came to us and said: “Are you really Sisters?”. We laughed and said we were. She added: “I hold in my heart a good memory of a Sister who helped me when I was sick in 1985-86. I had second and third degree burns on my legs. In hospital they didn’t want to deal with me. The Sisters of the St. Eugenius Dispensary cared for me so well that I hardly have any marks". Our hearts delighted on hearing this. It is so beautiful to hear wonderful stories about our Sisters. The lady left her telephone number with us. “Sisters, if you need anything, don’t hesitate in calling me”.

 

A Santa for all

Santa visited the OLA Sisters on December 10th.  Many children were waiting for him afterwards, some were Christian for certain but many more were Muslim children. If you don’t believe me, have a look at all the heads covered by veils!

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Santa Claus in the streets of Orán, Algeria.


Article translated from the December 2016 edition of 'Fenêtre Ouverte' - the OLA District of Algeria's newsletter.