AFRICA/ALGERIA - MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE IS POSSIBLE: LEGACY OF D. ULISSE CAGLIONI FIRST FOCOLARE MEMBER WHO LIVED FOR THIRTY YEARS IN ALGERIA, EARNING LOVE AND RESPECT OF LOCAL MUSLIMS
Algiers (Fides Service) – On 13 September Christians and Muslims will gather with the Catholic Archbishop of Algiers Henri Teissier, to commemorate Father Ulisse Caglione, a member of the Focolare Movement, who died on 1 September after devoting his life to Christian-Muslim dialogue in north Africa. There will be similar commemorations in Tlemcen at the end of the Muslim month of fasting Ramadan and on October 4 in Oran with Bishop Alphonse Georger. “It was Ulisse’s fidelity to the Gospel love of neighbour that helped people discover and live profound Muslim-Christian friendship, placing on this path a sign of God” Archbishop Teissier writes.
In 1966 a small, empty former Benedictine monastery in Tlemcen, eastrtn Algeria, was given to the Focolare Movement. With two companions, Father Ulisse aged 24, started the first Focolare community in a Muslim country. Tlemcen was to become “a place of encounter, dialogue and spirituality, an oasis of peace” says Sidi Ahmed Benchouk a Muslim, former prefect of Tlemcen region (Oran), who addresses Ulisse as follows: “You were a magnificent example of coherence between what you said, what you did and what you were. You came to us melting a sea of ice and breaking down walls which separated us in order to build indestructible bridges” . In time a community grew of hundreds of families, young people, people of all different walks of life, even Imam.
“Ulisse was for us a link between Christianity and Islam” Muslim friends write to Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, after the death of Ulisse. And they add: “We learned to listen without prejudice, without judgement. He taught us to do everything out of love. He taught us to be love. He always manifested his love for God. He was for us the model believer.”
In 1985 he was ordained a priest by Bishop Claverie of Oran, who ten years later was killed in a car bomb explosion. Ulisse never left Algiers, not even during the wave of violence which started in the 1970s. He lived and worked here for thirty years until a serious disease forced him to return to Italy. But his testimony continues to “live” in the land he loved so much. SL (Fides Service 12/9/2003 EM lines 38 Words: 478)
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