Servants of Hope: Tunisia 2015
That is the title given to the pastoral letter by the bishops of North Africa (CERNA) comprising five countries: Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.
It is a whole programme which, after their letter ’The meaning of our encounters’ in 1979, seeks to adjust the place of the Christian community among these peoples that have changed considerably over the past years. This is not only because of the great diversity of the members of that community but, above all, because of the evolution of the countries in which we are the guests, particularly during the past five years.
There is before and after 2011, the year during which the regimes in Tunisia and Libya fell. With regard to Tunisia, were we reside, it was the beginning of a laborious journey towards a "democracy that disturbs", to use the words of a journalist in the national daily "La Presse" on the 3rd of August 2015. It is basically the civil society that has moved, and that is what we are witnessing, without being directly involved in the events.
This is what a young Tunisian woman (Amina) wrote about it:
"I participated in the latest meeting of Tunisian intellectuals against terrorism. We are preparing the congress that will be held on the 12th of August. It is an excellent initiative and I continue to be optimistic because many organisations have come together to mobilise against ignorance and struggle against the cultural desert of the forgotten regions. I am sure that we will win, it will take time, but many positive things are being done and, even in the depths of obscurantism, there are those forces of light that are becoming stronger; there are all those men and women of peace and of progress who are working with faith and who believe in the power of life that is stronger than culture of death. The crisis we are experiencing can also be seen as an opportunity to rebuild a more just society, one that is more aware, with greater solidarity, and which requires us to be more involved individually."
"Servants of Hope" – that is what we are trying to be, all Christians together, whatever our activities, our age, our qualifications and, there again, we are witnesses to the effect of this long companionship with the men and women of these peoples. Let us hear the homage given by a young Tunisian woman, Besma, on the 8th of June this year, at the funeral of a European woman (Y.L.B.) who, with great discretion and availability, was in charge of a library for over forty years.
“Y.L.B, is the response to the following question: "How do we love God in serving His creatures?" How do we love God in the silence of relentless, assiduous and profound work, carried out humbly and with full humility?
Her devotedness in the service of the readers and those seeking knowledge was unconditional because, when one loves, one gives oneself completely.
Y.L.B gave her whole life and never sought anything for herself; but for us, for those seeking knowledge, she became a beggar. Yes! You have only to read the thousands of letters she sent to publishers at the four ends of the earth asking for gifts of books. You have only to calculate the number of editors’ doors on which she knocked during her holidays, begging books for us, Tunisians.
Y.L.B is the example of tolerance and of friendship. She lived in the service of others who are not of her religion, nor of her family nor of her country. I often wondered how it was possible to spend 42 years of one’s life in work at the C.E.C. (Centre for Christian studies) with the same strength and the same perseverance; and this despite the body that is beginning to give way, the various forms of ungratefulness, the dwindling funds and the difficulties that pile up.
And that is the vital lesson I learned from Y.L.B. It is not necessary to pronounce the name of God, nor to defend Him, nor speak of Him in order to serve Him. To love human beings, no matter who they are, no matter if they remember what one has done for them or whether they forget it, to do everything to help them acquire knowledge is, I believe the path chosen by Y. in her love for God.’
With these two testimonies we wish to give you a glimpse of all the hope that we have, we who have the good fortune to share the first fruits of the "new land" that is taking shape in this country and to be in the midst of those with whom, as Church, we wish to become true "servants of Hope" and this in spite all the shadows and disturbances that have been unsettling the country for several months past.
As Amina concluded,
"For, indeed, it is by uniting our efforts in faith and in the certainty of a better future that we will rebuild the Tunisia that we love so much, the Tunisia of tolerance, of joie de vivre and of hope.
More than ever we need you, our Christian brothers and sisters, to be among us so that we may live in openness to the other, live it and pray it together."
The community of Hammam-Lif,