Who was Charles de Foucauld?

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

Charles de Foucauld / Public domain

Vatican City, Nov 9, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican on Tuesday announced that the canonization of Bl. Charles de Foucauld and six others will take place in Rome on May 15, 2022.

Who was Charles de Foucauld?

De Foucauld, also known as Brother Charles of Jesus, was a soldier, explorer, Catholic revert, priest, hermit, and religious brother, who served among the Tuareg people in the Sahara desert in Algeria.

He was assassinated by a band of men at his hermitage in the Sahara on Dec. 1, 1916.

De Foucauld was born in Strasbourg in 1858. He was raised by his wealthy and aristocratic grandfather after being orphaned at the age of six.

He joined the French military, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. Having already lost his faith, as a young man he lived a life of indulgence and was known to have an immature sense of humor.

De Foucauld resigned from the military at age 23, and set off on a dangerous exploration of Morocco. Contact with strong Muslim believers there challenged him, and he began to repeat to himself: “My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.”

He returned to France and, with the guidance of a priest, came back to his Catholic faith in 1886, at the age of 28.

The following saying is attributed to him: “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.”

De Foucauld realized a vocation to “follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth” during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was a Trappist monk in France and Syria for seven years. He also lived as a hermit for a period near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.

He was ordained a priest in 1901 at age 43 and left for northern Africa to serve among the Tuareg people, a nomadic ethnic group, saying he wanted to live among “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.”

In the Sahara he welcomed anyone who passed by, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or pagan.

He was deeply respectful of the faiths and cultures he lived among. During his 13 years in the Saraha he learned about Tuareg culture and language, compiling a Tuareg-French dictionary, and being a “brother” to the people.

The priest said he wanted to “shout the Gospel with his life” and to conduct his life so that people would ask, “if such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

De Foucauld was the inspiration for the founding of several lay associations, religious communities, and secular institutes of laity and priests, known collectively as “the spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld.”

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.”

“He discovered that Jesus — who came to unite Himself to us in our humanity — invites us to that universal brotherhood which he later experienced in the Sahara, and to that love of which Christ set us the example,” he said.

After meeting with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the congregation for saints’ causes, the pope approved a second miracle attributed to de Foucauld’s intercession, paving the way for his canonization.

The date of the canonization had been delayed due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Foucauld’s postulator told CNA last month.

The May 15 ceremony will be the Catholic Church’s first canonization Mass since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

Who else will be canonized?

With Foucauld, Pope Francis will also canonize Devasahayam Pillai, a layman from India who was martyred after converting from Hinduism to Catholicism in the 18th century.

Two religious sisters will also be canonized on May 15: Bl. Maria Francesca di Gesù, the foundress of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of Loano, and Bl. Maria Domenica Mantovani, the co-foundress and first general superior of the Institute of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family.

Bl. César de Bus, Bl. Luigi Maria Palazzolo, and Bl. Giustino Maria Russolillo — three priests who founded religious congregations and institutes — will also be declared saints.

This story was originally published on May 27, 2020.


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