Over Spring Break, I read Fr. Martin McGee, OSB‘s latest book, Christian Martyrs for a Muslim People, published by Paulist Press. This is a story of nineteen Catholic martyrs who died, for being Catholic, while serving a virtually completely Muslim population in Algeria.
While the land that is now Algeria was once a booming Catholic world before the Islamic faith traveled to north Africa, overall, Catholicism had only existed because of French colonial activity in the area. When Algeria gained independence in the mid-20th century, the vast majority of Catholics left the region. In the 1970s, the Algerian government consolidated many Catholic services still in the area (such as schools), leaving the various bishops, parish priests and monks with virtually no Catholic population. In fact, the book mentions one parish whose only Catholic parishioners were monks of a local monastery.
In a great multi-faith twist, the Catholic ministers began to serve the Muslim population–not in religious services, but through social work. The priests and religious would operate libraries and serve the non-religious needs of the community, despite the threat from extremists to remove Christians from Algeria.
The horrible actions of a few resulted in the death of nineteen Catholics in the 1990s.
Fr. McGee takes a great look inside the lives of these nineteen, explaining why they would face almost certain death in order to serve a population who was not Catholic nor would become Catholic anytime soon.
This is a great read about an aspect of our global Catholicism that I had known nothing about (beyond perhaps seeing these names on the annual list of Catholics killed for the faith). This is truly an amazing story and all Christians (not just Catholics) should read this as both a testimony of amazing lives and as an example of ways to interact with folks of other faiths.