Who was Charles de Foucauld?

7 June 2020
A statue of Charles de Foucauld in front of the Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune Catholic church in Strasbourg, France. Image: Rabanus Flavus/Wikimedia Commons.

 

Pope Francis on Wednesday 27 May advanced the causes for canonisation of twelve holy men and women, authorising the publication of decrees recognising various miracles.

Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the Decrees regarding the miracle, attributed to the intercession of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (known as Charles of Jesus), diocesan priest; born in Strasbourg (France) on 15 September 1858 and died in Tamanrasset (Algeria) on 1 December 1916.

Below is an excerpt from Robert Ellsberg’s November 14 2005 article ‘Who was Charles de Foucauld?’ which also appeared in print under the headline ‘Evangelism of Presence,’ in the November 14 2005 issue of the America Magazine.

By any conventional standard, the life of Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) – soldier, explorer, monk and ultimately desert hermit – ended in failure. At the time of his violent death in a remote corner of the Sahara, he had published none of his spiritual writings; he had founded no congregation, nor attracted any followers. He could not claim responsibility for a single conversion. And yet his witness endured. Many today regard him as one of the great spiritual figures of the 20th century, a prophet whose message speaks more clearly to the challenges of our time than it did in his own. With his beatification on Nov. 13, the church will at last have given official recognition to his significance as one of those seekers who periodically manage to reinvent the imitation of Christ in a manner suited to the needs of their age, and thus invite others to read the Gospel in a new way.

And yet Foucauld’s influence and challenge extend far beyond the numbers of his followers. His emphasis on the hidden life of Jesus bears implications for many aspects of Christian life today. For one thing, he anticipated a new model of contemplative life, not in a cloistered monastery, but in the midst of the world. Thus he overcame the artificial divide between the religious and secular worlds, pointing to a way of holiness that is accessible to everyone, in whatever desert we may find ourselves.

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Robert Ellsberg is the editor of Charles de Foucauld: Selected Writings (Orbis) and author of the recently published Blessed Among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (Crossroad).

With thanks to America Magazine and Robert Ellsberg, where this article originally appeared.

 

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