People who know him best say that Charles de Foucauld, the loose-living soldier who became a famous desert contemplative, turned religion into a love affair.
Sr Cherryl, a member of the Little Sisters of Jesus which credits the missionary priest as their spiritual founder, says that for Charles, to follow Jesus was to become like him and to be able to act as he would with every person and in every situation.
Based in Adelaide, she is one of four Little Sisters of Jesus still ministering in Australia who are our link to one of the Church’s newest saints to be canonised in Rome on 15 May.
“Charles sought in life to imitate that hidden life of Jesus of Nazareth ‘seeking the last place’.”
Little Sisters Cherry and Maria-Bach live in Adelaide, while Little Sisters Claire and Magali live in Alice Springs.
Today they live either in public housing or simple rented accommodation, choosing to live as simply as those they have served for decades.
For 27 years Little Sisters Claire and Magali, missionaries from France and Switzerland respectively, lived, worked and ministered in Yuendumu, a town 300km northwest of Alice Springs.
“Charles’ life was profoundly marked by his admiration of ‘Jesus having taken the last place in such a way that no one has ever been able to take it away from him’,” says Little Sister Cherryl, who herself came to Australia from South Africa.
“Charles sought in life to imitate that hidden life of Jesus of Nazareth ‘seeking the last place’. He also foresaw with amazing intuition the importance of lay people for mission and evangelisation.”
Darwin Bishop Charles Gauci has a personal devotion to his namesake and is an admirer of the Little Sisters who have inspired him with their “very great Christian presence” in both dioceses where he has ministered.
“St Charles is a man for our times. He lived a pretty ordinary life in many ways, as a young man he wasn’t a committed Christian or living an exemplary life at all,” he said.
“But he was able to come through a religious experience and it was genuine. He never sought the limelight and was very much a believer in being a Christian presence. After his untimely and senseless death many people were influenced by him and wanted to live a very simple life as a reminder that the Christian life is not about doing spectacular things for God but doing God’s will, it’s about being living witnesses to simplicity, poverty, chastity and listening to the word of God.
“So he is a prophetic witness and very much a reminder to me of that interiority and the need to stay down to earth and to stand not for what is spectacular but what is right.”
After a dramatic conversion in his 20s Charles became a priest and eventually settled in Algeria among the most neglected people he remembered from earlier travels; the Tuaregs, people of a nomadic Sarahan Islamic tribe whose name means ‘abandoned by God’.
“St Charles is a man for our times. He lived a pretty ordinary life in many ways … But he was able to come through a religious experience and it was genuine.”
He was killed during a robbery of his hand-built hermitage in 1916. Shortly before, he had formed a Catholic association, a confraternity of lay people aimed at helping people to live the Gospel, promote love for the Eucharist and for the evangelisation of non-Christians through an ‘apostolate of friendship’.
Zoom conversations about Charles and his spirituality will be hosted by spiritual families worldwide which have sprung from his intuitions and vision.
They run for 1.5 hours from 11pm Sydney time on 8 and 22 May. Register by email [email protected]