By Lisa Zengarini
The last survivor of the 1966 massacre of Tibhirine, died in Morocco on November 21 aged 97. French Trappist monk Jean-Pierre Schumacher passed away peacefully on Sunday morning in the monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas, in central Morocco, where he had settled in 2000. The news was announced by the Moroccan Church in Rabat.
Frère Jean-Pierre was one of the two monks who managed to escape the kidnapping and brutal killing of their seven confreres from the Algerian Trappist Monastery during the ten-year civil war in the country. The other monk who survived the attack was Frère Amédée, who died in 2008.
The abduction and killing of the 7 monks
The Superior Christian de Chergé and other six monk brothers Luc Dochier, Christophe Lebreton, Michel Fleury, Bruno Lemarchand, Célestin Ringeard, Paul Favre-Miville, were all beheaded and their heads were discovered two months later not far from Tibhirine. The bodies, however, were never found. Their remains are buried there. Though the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) claimed the kidnapping and killing, the circumstances of their abduction and murder have yet to be fully clarified.
Thirty years in Algeria
Born in 1924 in Lorraine, raised in a Catholic working-class family of six children, Frère Jean-Pierre studied with the Marist Fathers. He was ordained a priest in 1953 and entered the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Timadeuc in Brittany in 1957.
At the request of the then Archbishop of Algiers, Léon-Etienne Duval, he moved to Tibhirine in the mid-Sixties with three other monks from Timadeuc, to “build a small community in a Muslim environment, living as poor among the poor”. Four years after the 1996 massacre, he settled in Midelt along with the other survivor, Frère Amédée, and became prior of the small Trappist Monastery of Notre-Dame de l’Atlas composed of eight brothers.
A “small remnant” of Tibhirine in Morocco
In their new home, they both used to say they considered themselves as a “small remnant” of Tibhirine: “Our presence in the monastery – Frère Jean-Pierre said – is a sign of faithfulness to the Gospel, to the Church and to the Algerian people”.
Fraternal dialogue with Muslims
He also said he often asked himself why he was allowed to survive the massacre and that in time he realized that God had assigned him the mission to witness the events of Tibhirine and “to make known the experience of communion with our Muslim brothers, which we continue now here in the monastery of Midelt”.
Funerals on November 30
Father Jean-Pierre had met Pope Francis during his Apostolic Journey to Morocco in 2019. His funeral is expected to take place on Tuesday, November 30, in the Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas.