VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - Nineteen Catholics who were martyred in Algeria in the 1990s are about to be beatified.
According to a decree promulgated on Saturday, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints decreed that Servant of God Bp. Claverie and 18 male and female consecrated religious are officially recognized as martyrs. For martyrs, this Decree of Martyrdom is what is needed for them to be called "blessed." (For non-martyrs, there needs to be a miracle attributed to their intercession.)
Numbered among these newly-recognized martyrs are the seven monks of Tibhirine. In March 1996, seven Trappists were captured by Islamic extremists of the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé or GIA). The militants murdered the monks via decapitation about two months later.
The monks' severed heads were recovered, but their bodies were never found.
There is some controversy over whom to blame for the monks' death. There are claims that Algerian government agents infiltrated the GIA's leadership and orchestrated severe acts of violence to discredit the insurgency from within.
A movie was made about the seven Trappist martyrs of Algeria; the 2010 French-language film Des Hommes et des Dieux (English title Of Gods and Men).
The decree for the 19 martyrs of Algeria was confirmed by Pope Francis a day before its promulgation. It was one of eight such decrees approved by the pope on Friday and promulgated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on Saturday.
Blessed Bp. Claverie, meanwhile, was born and raised in France and was ordained a priest in 1965.
Before being ordained, he had served in Algeria in the French military.
As a priest, he returned to Algeria in 1967 to help the people there recover from the war.
Then-Fr. Claverie worked to provide a solid Arabic cultural education to Christian missionaries and to local Muslims.
He was chosen bishop in 1981 and was known for his kindness toward the local Muslim majority.
Bishop Claverie was martyred in August 1996 when a bombing killed him and his Muslim driver as they entered a diocesan building.
In the 1990s, Algeria was rocked by civil war. In 1992, the military nullified an election that would have put hard-line Islamic leaders in power.
The North African country soon became home to several Islamic insurgencies wanting to overthrow the government and establish a strictly Islamic government. Over 150,000 people died from the warfare between government forces and Islamic insurgents.
Most of the Catholic faithful in Algeria were French-born like Bp. Claverie, often moving there for work. As tensions rose in the early 1990s, Christians and especially Catholic priests were advised to leave the country for fear of anti-Christian violence.
The fighting slowed down in the late 1990s, as popular support for the insurgencies was on the decline. The decline was also facilitated by negotiations between the government and the insurgents after numerous massacres of civilians. The violence did not have a definitive end, however, since the rebels were disorganized to the point of infighting, with some not accepting the ceasefire.