Charles de Foucauld in 1904-1905


But he was plagued by an increasing conviction that he was needed elsewhere. Deep down in the south of Algeria, in an area called the Hoggar, there was a network of tribes called the Touareg. They had their own language. They were extremely violent and savage; they conducted lethal raids on each other’s villages, and practised slavery. But they were not such entrenched Muslims as the Arabs at Beni Abbes. There was more hope, in Charles’ eyes, of converting them. And they were certainly among the poorest and most abandoned of all God’s children. Charles was egged on by an officer who was his personal friend, Colonel Laperrine. Years ago, they had been junior officers together. Laperrine was close by, so his advice was more cogent than anyone else’s. There was also the fact that the French were engaged, at this time (having won what they saw as the necessary battles) in a peace mission, attempting to befriend the native tribes. Not unlike the efforts of the present-day troops in Afghanistan: winning over the locals. The generals were doing this with a political aim, but Charles’ intentions were exclusively spiritual.

Now remember, Charles was a monk, and always wanted to do the will of God, and this was in his eyes to be found in the commands of his superiors. So he wrote to the Bishop in charge of the Sahara, Guérin, and to his own spiritual director in Paris, Huvelin. Can I go ? Or should I stay where I am ? But the post was slow, and Laperrine was always there at his elbow. Military convoys would be leaving for the south, he said, on 6 September and 15 October, and Charles could take his pick. In the event both convoys left without him, because the war blazed up close by, and Charles had to look after the wounded and bless the graves of the dead troops. But this was only a temporary delay. On 13 January 1904 with the blessing of the bishop, he set off on his first visit to the Touaregs.