A letter to Brother Charles

Very dear Charles, my brother,

I would have liked to have seen your expression on November 13 2005 when they unrolled a gigantic portrait of you at St Peter's in Rome.Jesus and Br CharlesJesus and Br Charles I ask myself if you would have liked it much. So I would like to explain to you why it was important for us to have this celebration, and why your life touches us.

To tell the truth, your life did not start well. Orphaned very young, exiled because of the war - those are emotional wounds that leave their mark and might have destroyed you. In fact, you very nearly lost your 'self'. "At the age of 17, I was like a madman," you wrote. You had money and you took advantage of that, but it did not fulfill you. On the contrary, you felt, "a painful emptiness, a sadness, an infinite distaste and boredom". Those are your own words.
What I find marvellous is that this wounded part of yourself, this thirst to be loved and to love, became the springboard for your life. It is not for nothing that 'brother' was one of your favourite words, a word of openness and relationship to the other. You never knew it, but when your 'accompanier', Abbe Huvelin, introduced you to the Father Abbot of a monastery where he was sending you to do a retreat, he wrote to him, "This man makes religion a love affair". That gives me hope in the face of situations of woundedness.

You were very faithful to your family and your friends, affectionate and close. They kept your letters, thousands of them! But there is one thing that touches me greatly: for you Jesus was a friend just as real, living and close as other friends. Of course you were a monk for some years and then a hermit. But later, in the Sahara, when you wrote that, "from 4h 30 in the morning until 8h 30 in the evening, [I] do not cease to speak to and see people: slaves, the poor, the sick, soldiers, travellers, the curious" how were you able to keep your heart alert to the living Jesus? You gave us your secret: "Let us go back to the Gospel," you said. "It is necessary to try to allow yourself to be impregnated with the spirit of Jesus by reading and re-reading, meditating and re-meditating constantly on his words and examples which act like the drops of water which fall on a stone again and again, always in the same place…".
However busy our lives may be, there is room for friendship with Jesus. And frequenting Jesus does not place us up on a little cloud, it can end up making us just as human as you were, human beings in Jesus' fashion.
This is one of the great things that you have taught us: being 'human' is sometimes the only way to break down the barriers and to speak of God. At the end of your life, you went alone among an unknown people, and the only thing that you did was to draw close to them by respecting and valuing their culture, by letting yourself be welcomed by them and believing that God was working, even if it takes "centuries" as you said. When you died, Moussa, the Tuareg chief, wrote these simple words to his sister: "Charles the marabout did not die only for you people, he also died for us all. May God give him mercy and may we meet him in Paradise!"
Today, you know, there is a lot of talk about communication, but each person is enclosed within his own little circle because difference creates fear. With you, on the other hand, your passion was to go to the one who was furthest away, and you lived this to the end. What a spirit you give us!
Basically, I know what expression you had on November 13: the expression of the blessed! The one seen on the photo of you, which I am including. It is a little fuzzy, but we can clearly see that you are smiling and walking towards the other, moving towards the encounter. That is you completely! And it is that which we love in you.
Permit me, please, to finish my letter as you finished yours to your friend Gabriel: "Just as I love you with all my heart, so too I embrace you with all my heart."
Marc, your little brother.