He was the sole survivor of the Tibhirine massacre. Brother Jean-Pierre Schumacher died in Morocco this Sunday, November 21, feast of Christ the King, at the age of 97. He had already passed away when his brothers from the monastery of Midelt found him, after the Eucharist. Brother Jean-Pierre had received the sacrament of the sick that very morning.
Born in 1924 in Lorraine, raised in a Catholic working-class family of six children, he studied with the Marist fathers. Ordained a priest in 1953, he entered the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Timadeuc in Brittany. It was at the request of the Bishop of Algiers that he left in 1964 for Tibhirine in Algeria with three other monks from Timadeuc, to y “build a small community located in the middle of a Muslim environment, living poor among the poor”.
As in any Trappist monastery, the life of the monks was made up of prayer and work. Despite their ardent desire to establish a dialogue with Muslim believers, the brothers felt the danger mounting throughout the dark decade. But they had collectively made the decision to stay in their monastery, despite the threats.
On the night of March 26-27, 1996, seven monks from the monastery were kidnapped by armed men. Brother Jean-Pierre Schumacher was the night porter of the convent. He was praying kneeling beside his bed when the handle began to creak. “It was spinning in the void because, like every evening, I had unhooked the latch, for safety”, he said in The Spirit of Tibhirine (1). Thinking that the monks were seven, while they were nine, the armed men left.
Why did he, as well as brother Amédée, survive the massacre, when the heads of their seven kidnapped monks were found in a ditch not far from Tibhirine? This miracle often tormented him. He ended up adopting this explanation received from a Swiss nun: “There are brothers who are brought to bear witness by the gift of their lives and others who do so through their lives. “
Brother Jean-Pierre therefore testifies. And first of all from the strength of the martyrdom of his brothers. He confides that he himself has never had to mourn his fellow monks. “I am not sad, I was not sad (…). My brothers went to the end, until the total offering of their being to God, without any will to sacrifice, but in obedience to the ideal of monastic life which unites us beyond earthly life. “ The seven assassinated Tibhirine monks were beatified in December 2018 in Oran, along with twelve other religious, killed in Algeria during the “black decade”.
Four years after the tragedy, Brother Jean-Pierre settled permanently in Midelt in a small community of Trappist monks of the Cistercian order installed in the Moroccan Atlas, alongside eight brothers. Often asked about the question of forgiveness, he gave this answer: “ Only God can grant it if the guilty demand it ”, specifying that he sticks personally to the rule of Saint Benedict when one has committed a serious fault: “To love the brother, to hate the vice. “
In 2010, Brother Jean-Pierre’s life took on an unexpected new light, when Xavier Beauvois’ hit film was released in theaters, men and gods. He really liked the feature film which tells the story of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996. He judged his achievement “Very faithful” to the message of brotherhood of the monks, especially vis-à-vis Muslims. “The radiant beauty of this film strengthened me in my conviction that the death of my brothers was not wasted. The death of the saints is a seed of Christians ”, he had told inThe Spirit of Tibhirine.
Father Jean-Pierre had met Pope Francis during his apostolic visit to Morocco in 2019. His funeral should be celebrated on Tuesday, November 30 at the monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas where he ended his life.