A film about a terrorist massacre of Catholic monks in Muslim Algeria may turn out to be a more genuinely "Christmassy" experience than the usual fare. Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et des Dieux) (dir. Xavier Beauvois) won the Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. This film will make you think about the values that really matter.
The monks of Tibhirine were captured by extremists in 1996 and held hostage for months before being beheaded. It's still not clear who actually killed them, small-time brigands or State-endorsed terrorists. The real mystery is what led these men to remain in Algeria when society was collapsing around them.
The monks lived among the local Muslims as equals, not as colonial masters, sharing the humble lives of the community. Then the civil war came and the country slipped into anarchy. Brigands threaten the monks at gunpoint. "Come to our clinic and we'll treat your men" says the leader of the monks coolly, "but don't take medicines from the villagers". The monk quotes the Koran. The brigand keeps the monastery under his protection til he himself is brutally murdered. The monks know they are in grave danger. But their commitment to living with the villagers is so deep that they can't abandon them to save themselves. There are many themes in this powerful but gentle movie. so catch it while you can. This just might be a gift to give yourself, whatever your beliefs or what you think of the monks. Here are the words of the monks' leader:
"If it should happen one day -- and it could be today -- that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country. I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure."
"I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value...... should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down."