Archbishop of Algiers Abandons Evangelism

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 8, 2022   

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ALGIERS, Algeria (ChurchMilitant.com) - The head of the Catholic Church in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of Algeria is asking Catholics to "get rid of the idea that we have to evangelize and bring people to our truth." 

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Abp. Vesco embraces a Muslim imam in the name of 'fraternity'

"Simultaneously, we must accept that there is perhaps also, in Islam, a part of truth that escapes us," the new archbishop of Algiers, Jean-Paul Vesco, told Swiss Catholic media cath.ch in an interview in February. 

Pope Francis "affirms in a way that baptism is not the condition of salvation," Vesco noted, explaining how the pontiff's "revolutionary" approach to Islam has replaced evangelization with fraternity

"We are therefore believers among other believers," the prelate said in a second interview with SIR Agency, conceding: "We are aware that we are addressing people who, in turn, have a faith that is different from ours."

However, there were challenges posed by Muslim apologists "who tell us daily they know our religion and why it is not a true path to God," he said. "It is difficult to hear these speeches with the Koran as an irrefutable argument."

Francis fiddles with 'fraternity' while Africa burns.

But "let us beware of ourselves whenever we are tempted to look negatively at Islam," Vesco warned. "We cannot give our testimony without our Algerian Muslim partners."

Evangelicals Do What Catholics Won't

While Catholics in Algeria number a mere 5,000 — less than 0.01% of the population or one-third of 1% of the population — evangelicals claim that the overwhelmingly Islamic nation has "the fastest growing church movement in the Muslim world."

Moreover, while Catholicism in Algeria remains confined to African students, migrants and expatriates, Vesco admits Protestants have experienced rapid growth among indigenous Algerians. 

Bp. John Gordon MacWilliam sees evangelical converts but says Catholics must not evangelize
 

"Where we affirm the existence of a universal brotherhood, the Evangelical churches emphasize entry into a community through baptism," he explained, noting that evangelicals "respond more to a pattern of thought found in the Muslim religion."

"The Protestant churches are not our competitors. They also have their share of truth, which perhaps escapes us," the archbishop observed. 

Persecution Not Stopping Conversions

The world's largest Arab country has seen a 50-fold growth among evangelical believers in the last decade, despite significant persecution. Open Doors ranks Algeria as No. 24 on its World Watch List of the most difficult countries for Christians.

"Algerian Christians, most of whom are converts from Islam, face opposition from their family members and extended family in particular," reports Open Doors' 2022 dossier on Algeria. "State officials at various levels of the administrative hierarchy are increasingly exerting pressure on Christians to renounce their faith and to restrict their freedom."

Catholic leaders keep treating us to rose-colored depictions of Islam that bear no relation to reality.

Ordinance 06-03 regulates non-Muslim worship, prohibiting anything that would "shake the faith of a Muslim" or be used as "a means of seduction intending to convert a Muslim to another religion," the dossier states. Church meetings at home are forbidden.

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Algerian evangelicals protest "unjust closure of churches"

Several Christians have been imprisoned on blasphemy and proselytizing charges and 13 previously closed church buildings remained sealed, while three new churches were closed in July 2021.

Moreover, female converts to Christianity cannot marry non-Muslim men, while marriages between Algerians who have converted to Christianity can only take place according to Islamic rites.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a missionary who conducts Bible studies among the Berbers told Church Militant most Algerian Muslim converts are ethnic Berbers living in the Kabyle region in northern Algeria and number around 7 million of the population.

"It's wonderful to see how God is bringing to Himself the very people who come from the same ethnic background as the great St. Augustine of Hippo," the missionary said. "It is a joy to preach the gospel in the land where St. Augustine was born."

"Scholars mostly agree that Augustine and his family were of indigenous African stock — Berber — though very much Romanized and speaking only Latin at home as a matter of some pride and dignity," writes historian Miles Hollingworth in Saint Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography.

"We are making more evangelistic progress with the Berbers because they take great pride in their ancient heritage and identity and so try to distinguish themselves from the Arab majority and emphasize their own identity," the missionary pointed out.  

During the time of St. Augustine, almost all of North Africa was Christian; now it is almost entirely Muslim.

"But since the Berbers are already marginalized by the government, when they give their lives to Jesus, they are doubly discriminated against," he lamented. 

De-Christianization Beginning to Turn Around?

Algeria was predominantly Christian in the second century until the Islamic invasions from A.D. 670–711 forced many to convert to Islam. Catholics built churches after France conquered Algeria in 1830 and made it a French province in 1848. 

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Catholic Basilica of Notre-Dame d'Afrique in Algiers

However, the churches were mostly for around 100,000 expatriates from France and missionary activity among Muslims remained stagnant. Between 1848 and 1870, female missionaries catered to the religious needs of migrant Spanish, Italian and Maltese settlers.

According to historian Kyle Francis, between 1848 and 1883, the French colonial government used missionaries "to mold a cohesive community out of a heterogeneous group of European settlers in Algeria."

"After 1870, however, newly empowered civilian officials increasingly abandoned the use of Catholic missionaries and worked to assimilate foreign settlers to their own secular ideal of a universal, republican France," writes Francis. 

An exceptional prelate who resisted the colonial administration and labored to convert the whole of the Algerian Muslim population to Catholicism was Cdl. Charles Lavigerie, archbishop of Algiers from 1867. 

"Lavigerie challenged the notion that Muslim societies could not be converted or that ardent missionary activity should be circumscribed to existing Christian communities," writes historian Bertrand Taithe.

One of the Islamic truths that seems to escape the archbishop is that Allah has commanded that all the world be subjected to him.

"Ironically, while the new Catholic archbishop is rejecting the legacy of Lavigerie, we are picking it up with renewed zeal," the missionary told Church Militant. 

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High Altar at the Basilica of Notre-Dame d'Afrique, Algiers

"I can't give you a precise number of converts because that would not be wise and might provoke the Muslim administration, but there are estimates of 10,000 Christians in 2008, which grew to 380,000 in 2015 and may now be reaching half a million," he noted. 

"Also, Operation Mobilization estimates there are an estimated 100,000 Kabyle believers in the country," he added. 

Francis: Fiddling While Africa Burns

Meanwhile, Catholic Islamic scholar William Kilpatrick has blasted Abp. Vesco for claiming "there might be in Islam some truth that evades us."

"One of the Islamic truths that seems to escape the archbishop is that Allah has commanded that all the world be subjected to him," Kilpatrick wrote Friday in Frontpage Mag. "Algeria happens to be a good example of subjugation by Islam." 

He explained:

During the time of St. Augustine, almost all of North Africa was Christian; now it is almost entirely Muslim. Islamists in Africa now seem intent on finishing the job they started in the seventh century. 

They have North Africa under their belt, and now they want the rest of the continent. In almost every part of Africa, jihadist attacks on Christian churches and villages are an almost daily occurrence.

"Thanks to prelates like Pope Francis and Abp. Vesco, evangelization is off the table," and as jihadists terrorize Christians, "Catholic leaders keep treating us to rose-colored depictions of Islam that bear no relation to reality," Kilpatrick lamented.

"Like Chamberlain at Munich, Pope Francis can wave his document on Human Fraternity as a sign of peace, but for Christians across the world, the situation vis-à-vis Islam only goes from bad to worse," Kilpatrick concludes. "Francis fiddles with 'fraternity' while Africa burns."

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