Our entire person must breathe Jesus, all our actions. Our whole life must cry out that we belong to Jesus, reflect a Gospel way of living. Our whole being must be a living proclamation, a reflection of Jesus.
CHARLES DE FOUCAULD (Brother Charles of Jesus) was born in Strasbourg, France on September 15th, 1858. Orphaned at the age of six, he and his sister Marie were raised by their grandfather in whose footsteps he followed by taking up a military career. He is considered to be among the most remarkable of 20th-century holy men: an aristocrat, immensely rich, and an explorer and soldier, forever disdainful of his superiors, who argued forcefully for the French colonization of North Africa. In his youth he played a key role in this endeavor.
As a young man, he was so taken with a rare wine that he bought the entire stock for 18,000 francs at a time when the average Frenchman earned perhaps 2,400 francs a year.
He undertook a risky exploration of Morocco (1883-1884). Seeing the way Muslims expressed their faith caused him to question his lack of faith, and he began repeating, My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.
On his return to France, the warm, respectful welcome he received from his deeply Christian family made him continue his search. Under the guidance of Fr. Huvelin he rediscovered God in October, 1886. He was then 28 years old. As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land revealed his vocation to him: to follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth. He spent seven years as a Trappist, first in France and then at Akbès in Syria. Later he began to lead a life of prayer and adoration, alone, near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.
Translation of this December 1, 1916 Letter of Charles de Foucauld:
Tamanrasset, par In Salah via Biskra
15 July 1915
Very dear friend,
Thank you for your pleasant letter of 20 April. I thank God for your good health, that of Mrs. Lutoslawski and of your son. Along with you I am praying for Poland, so afflicted (in this conflict), and that God will keep safe all of your loved ones, and that He will ensure a victorious peace founded on justice and right, and that a great calm will follow this storm.
Here the country is experiencing great tranquillity, as is Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, the French Soudan, and all of French Africa. We are far removed here among the Touaregs from the war in Europe.
Ouksem (a Touareg friend of Foucauld) has left for far-off pastures. He is at more than 600 kilometers from here for an undetermined length of time…this is neither favourable to family life nor to instruction. Nomadism and barbarity are inseparable; barbarity can exist without nomadism, but nomadism does not exist without barbarity.
My close family (and friends), who are in action (in the war) are well. God has kept them from harm for the present. Of the various regions of France where I have relatives, none is occupied by the enemy.
I receive mail every 18 days, which brings telegrams, the most recent of which dates from a month ago, and letters and newspapers much older. You can understand with what impatience I await these rare arrivals and how at every hour I wonder how everything is going in this war, on which the fate of our countries, Europe, the world, the freedom of peoples and civilization depends.
From my younger days spent in the army, I still have close friends who have remained soldiers and who are all at the front. Their confidence in victory is unanimous, but not one among them will hazard a guess at a date. This war is a war of attrition, in which time is on our side and where it is to our advantage to play for time.
Goodbye for now, dear friend and brother in Christ. Let us pray together for our countries, for victory for our armies, and that justice and right will prevail.
Please pay my respects to Madame Lutoslawski.
Your affectionate and devoted brother in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Charles de Foucauld
Thank you very much for the very interesting documents from the Chamber of Commerce in Paris that you were so good as to send me.
Papal Artifacts gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Dr. Jennifer Walski, PH.D, translator.
Ordained a priest at 43 (1901) he left for the Sahara, living at first in Beni Abbès and later at Tamanrasset among the Tuaregs of the Hoggar. He wanted to be among those who were, the furthest removed, the most abandoned. He wanted all who drew close to him to find in him a brother, a universal brother. In a great respect for the culture and faith of those among whom he lived, his desire was to shout the Gospel with his life. I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?
On the evening of December 1st, 1916, he was killed by a band of marauders who were struggling against the imposition of French rule.
He had always dreamed of sharing his vocation with others: after having written several rules for religious life, he came to the conclusion that this life of Nazareth could be led by all. Today the spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld encompasses several associations of the faithful, religious communities and secular institutes for both lay people and priests.
In between his devotions, he compiled a scholarly dictionary and grammar of the Tuareg people with whom he lived in a remote part of southern Algeria.
Perhaps the simplest, most profound statement ever uttered by Father Charles de Foucauld is the one on which a person could live his/her whole life: No matter what is being encountered, he said, It is JESUS in this situation.
Pope Benedict XVI beatified Charles de Foucauld on November 13, 2005. His feast day is celebrated on December 1.
Pope Francis canonized Charles de Foucauld in Rome on May 15, 2022.