Who is Charles?
On November 13th 2005, Pope Benedict XVI beatified a number of people including Brother Charles de Foucauld. But who is this Charles de Foucauld, the first Little Brother of Jesus, who strived his whole existence to welcome the birth of Jesus in all facets of his life?
Charles de Foucauld was born in a well-to-do family in Strasbourg in 1858. Orphaned at 6 years old, his maternal grandfather took charge of his education. His Christian upbringing in childhood would not be enough to sustain him in his adolescence. He loses his faith. As an adult, he joins military life where he leads one of debauchery and rebellion. In the army, he fell in love with the desert and the Arab way of life, which led him to resign his commission and set up an exploratory trip to Morocco, a country still largely uncharted. With his growing notoriety in the fields of geography and in the development of the Sahara, Charles de Foucauld discovers the Islamic world, which leads him to question his own faith. He is then inhabited by the thirst for meaning in his life, a search for Truth and the Absolute.
His meetings with Father Huvelin will bring him closer to God, and he will experience a personal conversion, which will transform his life. He learns that to seek God, one must imitate Him and decides to live but for Him. During a pilgrimage in the Holy Land, he discovers Jesus’ humble and simple life, a poor worker from Nazareth. Attracted by this desire to imitate and love God, he decides to bury himself in poverty, first with the Syrian Trappists, and then as a humble servant to the Clarist Nuns in Nazareth. In an attempt to better imitate Jesus and to bring the Gospel and the Eucharist presence to the poor, he becomes a priest and establishes himself in Beni-Abbès and Tamanrasset in the Hoggar, the land of the Tuaregs.
Brother Charles shares his life with the Tuareg people, in whose hearts he sees the Divine. He shares their way of life and interest in their language and culture. He translates their poems and songs. He wishes to promote their human, intellectual and moral progress, in the hopes that one day they may discover Jesus’ love. He establishes a hermitage open to Christians and Muslims alike, while tending to the sick and welcoming the poor and fights to end slavery. He sets up the foundation for the first Fraternity at Tamanrasset and Beni-Abbès. The companions he waits for never come. He remains alone. The Tuareg people veneer Brother Charles as a ‘marabout’, a holy man. He becomes their universal brother, united in Christ.
There is unrest in the desert in 1915. To protect the population, Brother Charles builds a fort at Tamanrassset. Unfortunately, two young rebels at the door of his hermitage assassinate the one who wished to die a martyr on December 1st 1916. Today, countless religious congregations and associations perpetuate his spirituality trying to immortalize his spirit and his mission, to teach today’s men and women to see the mystery of God in their everyday lives and to see us in Him.