Charles de Foucauld, Catholic ‘revert’ turned saint


Charles de Foucauld / Public domain

Vatican City, Dec 1, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Today is the feast day of St. Charles de Foucauld who was canonized by Pope Francis 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 on May 15.

This story was originally published on May 27, 2020.

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1 Comment

  1. Like Muhammad, De Foucauld was orphaned at the age of eight. But, unlike Muhammad, his turning point—to the Triune God—happened in a Paris confessional, rather than in a cave at Mt. Hira in Arabia where Muhammad discovered only a monolithic and therefore distant monotheism.

    Three points:

    FIRST, among the nominally Muslim Tuaregs De Foucauld gained many converts, not by conquest but by the witness of his personal poverty and simplicity. Of missionary work, he shunned today’s secularist option, “Neither does our role as Little Brothers include working for their adaptation to the Western materialistic, technological form of civilization, which, moreover, comes far from representing the only conceivable idea of a really human civilization.”

    SECOND, as a possible message to plebiscite synodality in the West, his conversion (!) from a dissolute, comfortable and bored existence continued where, in Morocco, and “through the faith of an entire people of Muslims, he had glimpsed something of the greatness of God” (Rene Voillaume, Seeds of the Desert, Fides Publishers, 1964).

    THIRD, about this “greatness of God,” and less flaccid than much post-Vatican II dialogue, and near the end of the Council, the lay observer Jean Guitton quoted the Muslim el Akkad (1956) who ventured a less ambiguous and less pluralist grip on things:

    “It all comes down to knowing whether one should hold strictly to the fundamental religious values which were those of Abraham and Moses, on pain of falling into blasphemy—as the Muslims believe; OR WHETHER God has called men to approach him more closely, revealing to them little by little their fundamental condition as sinful men, and the forgiveness that transforms them and prepares them for the beatific vision—as Christian dogma teaches” (Jean Guitton, The Great Heresies and Church Councils, 1965).

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