Bishop Henri Teissier, a life in the service of Algeria and its Church

The day before, a stroke had surprised him in the small apartment he had occupied in Lyon for two years. And it is in the early morning of Tuesday 1er December, on the feast of Blessed Charles de Foucauld whom he loved so much, that Bishop Henri Teissier died at the age of 91 in hospital, watched over by his relatives.

A pillar in the history of Algeria and of its Church, this warm pastor had to resolve, in the fall of 2018, to leave Algiers, this city where he spent most of his life since the summer of 1951 where he performed a one-year internship in a prefabricated flooring factory and in the parish of Hussein Dey. The objective is then to verify the solidity of its vocation. The experience of a “Opening Church” is decisive: the parish priest is Father Jean Scotto, pied-noir and committed alongside the Algerians.

When he was ordained in 1955, the young priest had only one wish: to return to Algeria. He began to learn Arabic at Inalco in addition to his studies at the seminary, and left to improve his studies for two years in Cairo. In 1958, he arrived as a priest in Algiers. He was appointed to Belcourt where about 20,000 Christians live. “Patronage, choir, ACO, ACI, scouts, catechism …”, he has up to 40 groups to follow. It is the great era of the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, who choose a poor life, among the Algerians. A model of evangelical life in his eyes.

He will never understand the criticisms from across the Mediterranean from those who judged him. ” too soft “. “I accompanied catechumens towards baptism and with great joy. But do we have nothing to do with the 99% Muslims who will remain so? The Kingdom is not built only where we “make the baptized” but where we work for humanity ”, affirmed the one who will obtain Algerian nationality in 1965 at the same time as Cardinal Léon-Étienne Duval.

After independence and the departure of almost all of his faithful, Henri Teissier chose to stay, not without hesitation. Everything needs to be rethought and rebuilt, with foreign aid workers. It was during this period that, thanks to a manuscript found with a friend, one of the great passions of his life was born: Emir Abdelkader, to whom he briefly dreamed of devoting a thesis in history (1). “The Emir was concerned with the search for an Islamic-Christian dialogue, and this had been written in 1849, that is to say a century before this dialogue became a general subject”, he explained.

In fact, Henri Teissier is both an Algerian with countless Algerian friendships and a real pillar of his small Church. Appointed Bishop of Oran in 1972, he became Archbishop of Algiers in 1988, always seeking a way to put himself at the service of a country which, since its independence, has never ceased to seek an identity and a political future.

It was in this post of Archbishop of Algiers that Henri Teissier was plunged into the turmoil of Islamist violence which was tearing the country apart. It is he who accompanies each member of the diocese in his discernment: to leave or to stay? It is he who, 18 times, is called after the tragic assassination of one of his family and who, in grief and fear, must warn the families, organize the funeral or the repatriation of the bodies. The 19e time, it is the assassination of his friend and colleague Pierre Claverie, bishop of Oran, that he learns. Incredibly bruised, he holds on.

In 2000, when the fury has ended and a cover is being put by the Algerian authorities on this immense tragedy, Mgr Henri Teissier is invited by Jean-Paul II to the celebration at the Colosseum for “The martyrs of the XXIe century “ : with the families of the 19 martyrs of Algeria, he launched the crazy and prophetic idea of ​​their beatification, anxious to share with the universal Church their testimony of fidelity.

A fine connoisseur of Algerian sensitivity, he knows the risk of this highlighting: “There is no question for us to oppose a violence which has been done to us to that which has struck the whole of society”, he kept repeating. At the same time, he is also fighting to ensure that the Tibhirine monastery remains a place of Christian prayer – it now hosts a small community on Chemin-Neuf.

The result, on December 8, 2018, exceeds all his hopes. It is Algeria, a country with a wounded memory, which welcomes the first beatification in a country overwhelmingly Muslim. It brings together in a single tribute these “Thousands and thousands of intellectuals, journalists, imams, fathers and mothers of families”, to whom a minute of silence has been dedicated. For this man with the heart of a pastor, and with an easy tear, the beautiful celebration at the Sanctuary of Santa Cruz is an accomplishment, but also a form of healing. It crowns a life entirely given to the Church and to Algeria.


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