VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is to canonize a French priest who warned of the resurgence of Islamic imperialism and the impossibility of integrating Muslims into French society unless the Church converted Muslims to Christianity.
"In general, with some exceptions, as long as they are Muslim, they will not be French, they will wait more or less patiently for the day of the Mahdi [Islamic messiah], in which they will subdue France," Blessed Charles de Foucauld warned in his 1916 letter to René Bazin, his future biographer.
"If, little by little, slowly, the Muslims of our colonial empire in northern Africa do not convert, there will be a nationalist movement similar to that of Turkey," de Foucauld predicted, explaining that the Muslim "intellectual elite" will have "lost all Islamic faith" but will use Islam to "influence the masses," and ordinary Muslims will remain "firmly Mohammedan, brought to hatred and contempt for the French by their religion."
"In sentiments that would now be outlawed as Islamophobic, de Foucauld prophesied an Islamic political threat to Christian civilization, warning of the dangers of Muslims left untouched by the love of Christ," a French-speaking member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a religious society inspired by de Foucauld, told Church Militant.
"The task of whether or not to treat de Foucauld as an Islamophile or an Islamophobe will define whether or not European culture succumbs to Islam or converts it," the Normandy-based Catholic theologian observed.
However, shortly after the Vatican cleared de Foucauld's canonization on May 27, Fr. Andrea Mandonico told Vatican News that the martyr should be hailed as a "prophet of interreligious dialogue between Christianity and Islam."
Professor Mandonico teaches a course on Charles de Foucauld at the Gregorian University, which aims "to show how a fraternity between Christianity and Islam is possible ... in the dialogue that does not impose itself, that does not ask for conversion, a dialogue in 'universal brotherhood' as ... stated in the recent document on Human Fraternity," signed between Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi Feb. 2019.
La Croix praised the former cavalry officer as "a great figure of interreligious dialogue." In an interview, Sr. Odette, a member of the Little Sisters of Jesus based in Paris, said: "At a time when there is so much talk of interreligious dialogue, he is a great figure of that dialogue through his apostolate of prayer, silence and friendship with his Muslim brothers and sisters."
Writing in The Tablet, Christopher Lamb described the missionary to the Tuareg population of the Ahaggar region as a "model of dialogue and charity" who "showcased 'ministry of presence.'"
"It is an evangelization method which is the opposite of proselytizing. Living in a Muslim country he did not seek to preach, or perform great acts of bravado but to live at the foot of the cross," writes Lamb.
Lamb comments: "At a time when political strategists, and some inside the Church, wish to present a 'clash of civilizations' between Islam and Christianity and call for the 'Judeo-Christian' west to be defended, de Foucauld offers another way."
But the Normandy-based Little Brother told Church Militant he rejected Lamb's liberal spin: "The truth is that de Foucauld longed for the full and fervent conversion of Muslims into the deep and wondrous experience of Jesus that Catholicism mediates."
"Those who claim de Foucauld's life offers an example of passive benign cohabitation with Islam have not read his letters. He agonized over finding ways to gain the trust of the Muslims so conversion could follow. He was preparing the ground for future missionaries to carry out the task of conversion," the Little Brother stressed.
"He also criticized the West for not acknowledging the violence the Koran encourages towards Christians and recognized the impossibility of Muslim converts remaining with their communities who would otherwise ostracize and kill them. He even accused Christian Europe of not caring enough either for the 'Musselman' or for Jesus to even try to convert them," the Little Brother added.
Speaking to Church Militant, canon law expert Dr. Catherine Caridi insisted that "Fr. de Foucauld was being canonized for his heroic virtue and not just for being nice to Muslims or anybody else."
Caridi, whose book Making Martyrs East and West: Canonization in the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches is considered an authoritative text on the canonization process, said: "The notion that de Foucauld upended his whole life to move to North Africa, simply because he wanted to live amicably among the Muslims without converting any of them is so erroneous, it's almost laughable."
"Father de Foucauld wanted to bring souls to Christ, as he himself had been brought to Christ through his spiritual re-conversion," she said. "Having been stationed in North Africa in his military days, he had seen up close the native population — and wanted to present them with the example of a Catholic priest living a life of prayer, so as to gradually lead them to the true faith."
The key word here is "gradually." De Foucauld knew the Muslims were resistant to the Gospel and converting them would take time. He first lived among them quietly, acclimating them to the idea that there was in their midst a Catholic priest who treated them charitably and behaved with humility and simplicity. Many of them soon came to respect him — an important first step.
Father de Foucauld wrote to Catholics in France, asking them to send him rosaries to give to the local people — specifying that the rosaries should have a medal in place of the crucifix. He knew that the Muslims would never accept a gift with a crucifix attached; but a medal would be seen as something more acceptable to them.
"His plan was to accustom them to the rosary in this roundabout way, trusting that God's Mother would lead them to her Son," the canonist added.
A number of academics have resisted liberal attempts to portray de Foucauld as an apologist for inter-Islamic dialogue.
"It should be noted that Charles de Foucauld was more adversarial in his Christian theology of Islam than was his successor Massignon," writes C. Jonn Block in The Qur'an in Christian-Muslim Dialogue: Historical and Modern Interpretations, noting that the missionary was also "much more focused on conversion than was his successor."
Despite his earlier desire to convert to the religion of Muhammad, "Islam, for de Foucauld was ultimately void of truth," Block writes, citing the French priest's remarks: "I could see clearly that Islam was without a divine basis and the truth was not there," and "these souls are lost and will remain in that state if we do not take measures to influence them."
According to Muslim writer Ali Merad, de Foucauld saw Muslims as "slaves of error and vice," from whose "spiritual dereliction" he was present to rescue them.
Even the liberal Anglican proponent of Muslim-Christian dialogue Michael Ipgrave concedes in The Character of Christian-Muslim Encounter: "'[P]resence' for de Foucauld was not simply a happening to be in a place, but rather an intentional orientation toward the Muslim other; it followed that the Eucharist itself was for him in some sense a resource and an impulse to mission among Muslims."
Ipgrave quotes de Foucauld: "My work ... is first of all to bring into the midst of them Jesus, Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament, Jesus coming down every day in the Holy Sacrifice [of the Mass]."
"In the end, the violence at the heart of Islam took Blessed Charles' life. If it is not to threaten both our culture and our lives, we must ask for the prayers of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and follow his example and ask for his courage," the Little Brother from Normandy urged.
Born in Strasbourg, France, in 1858, de Foucauld lost his faith during his adolescence but returned to Catholicism after he was challenged by how Muslims practiced their faith. At his beatification in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said as a priest, de Foucauld "put the Eucharist and the Gospel at the center of his life."