Charles de Foucauld canonized by Pope Francis

Charles de Foucauld was canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, May 15. To commemorate his canonization, a Mass was celebrated at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Anchorage on Saturday, May 14.

Foucauld is the inspiration behind the vocation and mission of the Community of Little Sisters of Jesus in Alaska, which began in 1952; and of many other groups of lay people, religious men and women, and priests.

In the pope’s third encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” he mentions Foucauld as someone who exemplified the culture of encounter through his life in the Sahara Desert amongst the Muslim people.

Before his priesthood, Foucauld was orphaned at age of 6 and raised by his aristocratic grandfather who was a devout Catholic. As a young man, he was an utter mess. As a young officer in the army, he was dismissed for his wild conduct. 

He became a brilliant explorer who won recognition for exploring Morocco while disguised as a Jewish rabbi. He mingled freely among the Muslim and Jewish people and was mesmerized by their devotion to God, something that was missing in his own life at that time. He said, “Islam had a profound effect on me.” Despite his wealth and fame, he felt empty and unfulfilled. His constant prayer was “if you exist, let me know.”

His search for meaning and purpose in life continued until he found Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus in the Eucharist.

As soon as he believed there was a God, he said that he “could not live for anyone except for God.” His whole life became an encounter with Jesus. Following the life of Jesus of Nazareth, he simply wanted to be a “brother to all” and was drawn to go to the Islamic world of North Africa where he had lived. 

He had a deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist and spent hours in adoration. Even as he was drawn more and more deeply into contemplation, he was never far or separated from the people he had come to love. He was a familiar sight to travelers, to soldiers, to visitors. He described his hermitage in Beni-Abbes as a “beehive.” He wanted his house to be called a “fraternity” where all were welcome.

Charles de Foucauld was canonized by Pope Francis on May 15.

In his last ten years, Foucauld lived in Tamanrasset among the Tuareg people, a nomadic tribe of Algeria. He learned their language, their culture, and their poetry — he composed a dictionary of their language. This ardent desire to enter deeply into their culture was not to convert them but to simply be immersed in their life as he harbored much respect and love for these people. He was a man of mercy and compassion.

It has been over 100 years since Foucauld was killed on December 1, 1916, during the turmoil of World War I. He could have taken refuge in the French Army camp. But safety away and apart from the people he had grown to love was not an option. He chose to stay in solidarity with the poor who could not flee. Instead, he built a refuge for the local population in case of an attack. In the end, he was killed, bound by hand and feet, by a young man who guarded him. He died silently uttering no word. He embraced his death as intensely as he had embraced life.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit,”  stated in John 12:24.

In our divided world, some people ignite the embers of racism and bigotry while others combat it. Brother Charles was a part of the latter group: he connected with everyone, regardless of culture or religion. 

In proclaiming Foucauld as a saint, Pope Francis recognizes his undying effort to bring about brotherly and sisterly love.


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