In the footsteps of Brother Charles

08/01/2008 - 08:13


From Ghardaïa we flew far south to Tamanrasset, Br. Charles’s home from 1905 until his death. The town, which has grown from a few palm huts when he arrived to a place of between 80,000 and 100,000 today, has two remarkable buildings.

The 'Frigate', TamanrassetThe 'Frigate', Tamanrasset

The first is the “frigate”, his hermitage, so called because of its narrow length. Its width, between five and six feet, is dictated by the shortness of the branches available at the time as roof timbers. Br. Charles gradually extended it so that it now measures 25 paces long.

Home of the Little Sisters of the Gospel, TamanrassetHome of the Little Sisters of the Gospel, Tamanrasset

Across the way is the fraternity of the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, where we twice celebrated Mass and learned about their contacts with handicapped people and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

The Bordj, TamanrassetThe Bordj, Tamanrasset

The second building, on the other side of the oued or wadi, is the bordj, a square fort with corner towers, loop-holes and a magazine. This was built in 1915, in order to protect the local population, and it was from there that Br. Charles was dragged to his death on December 1st, 1916; the hole made in the wall from the bullet which killed him is still visible. Until recently, its caretaker was Rania, whom some of you may remember speaking in Rome when Br. Charles was beatified in November 2005.

In his living quarters in the fort is a facsimile of his Tuareg dictionary, outstanding for the subtlety of its definitions and the beautiful even hand in which it is written.