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….born in 1858 in Strasbourg - might have been surprised at the response to his life some decades after his death. The young adult would not have given many indications of future sanctity. His childhood was marked by the tragedy of both parents' early deaths, where after maternal grandparents took custody of Charles and his sister.

In time Charles entered the military academy but he passed out low on the list of graduates because of his slovenliness and casual attitude. The substantial fortune that the grandfather had left to Charles proved his undoing as he wasted the money on an extravagant lifestyle. Soon the academy dismissed him.

Turning point Charles then travelled to North Africa and used his exceptional linguistic skills to learn both Arabic and Hebrew. His journey through Morocco resulted in the publication of a book, Reconnaissance de Maroc, which received the gold medal of the Geographical Society of Paris.

By now Charles realized that Africa had changed him not just physically - he had lost the weight of earlier years but also spiritually. In Africa he had lived alongside two of the great monotheistic faiths and had admired their observance of regular prayer and the ethics of both the Torah and the Koran.

Monastic vocation Soon he was to meet Abbé Huvelin, a priest who lived a simple life instructing the many people who came to him. One of these was Charles and soon he had made his confession and returned to the faith he had abandoned twelve years before. Huvelin persuaded Charles to visit the Holy Land in 1888.

He was overwhelmed by the sight of the places where Jesus had lived and preached. He would later write, 'I have lost my heart to this Jesus of Nazareth, crucified 1900 years ago and I spend my life trying to imitate him'.

Through the counsel of Abbé Huvelin, he entered a Trappist monastery in the Ardeche region of France on 15 January 1890 and he received the habit on the Feast of Candlemas 1891.

Yet Charles wanted even more of the austerity for which the Trappists were renowned and he asked to move to a remote monastery in Syria.

There among the mountains he wrote, 'It moves you to compassion, for the poor, for workmen. You understand the cost of a piece of bread when you see the effort that goes to produce it'.

And yet nothing seemed to satisfy his spirit. He continued to lay his thoughts before Huvelin and by now these included the idea of founding his own religious order.

During the winter of 1896/7 he was released from his vows and began to live the hidden life for which he yearned. Charles returned to Nazareth and attached himself to a community of Poor Clares, working in the garden and doing basic tasks for them. By this time he had even allowed himself to study for the priesthood and was ordained on 9 June 1901. Still there was the idea within to form a group of men who would live a simple life but spend much time before the Blessed Sacrament.

Further afield A couple of years later, Charles received an invitation from an old military friend to go and work among the Tuareg people. Huvelin endorsed this plan and in January 1904 he moved to this Saharan area. Charles wrote, 'I don't think there is any saying in the Gospel which has had a greater effect on me than this one, 'whatever you do to one of these little ones you do to me'.

The linguistic versatility which Charles had already shown again came to the fore and he embarked on a translation of the gospels into the Tuareg language, an ancient language spoken even in Augustine's time, Charles settled in Tamanrasset, a village of about twenty families and it was there he proposed to live his hidden life.

A mud hut was in time replaced with a stone one and Charles was at peace. Soon the nomads came to trust this spiritual 'nomad' and came to him for any medicines and food he had to spare. 'I want everybody - Christians, Muslims, Jews - to get used to seeing me as their brother. They are already beginning to call my house "the fraternity" and I like that.'

Three times Charles returned to France - 1908, 1911 and 1913 - each time hoping to persuade a companion to return with him. Each time he returned alone. By now his day was well regulated and organized as he divided it between work, sleep and prayer. He was beginning to write a rule for his new association whose members would live by the gospel, showing their friendship and vocation to love and respect members of other faiths.

The night of 1 December 1916 he heard a voice outside and went to investigate. Immediately he was seized by a group of Senoussite tribesmen who proceeded to pillage his dwelling. A young boy with a rifle was left to guard Charles as all this happened. However when two men appeared on camels, Charles tried to warn them and the boy panicked. His gun went off and a bullet went straight through Charles' head. He died instantly. A Muslim friend wrote to his sister: 'When I heard of the death of our friend, your brother Charles, my eyes closed. There was darkness all about me. I wept.'

LEGACY The hidden life could not remain hidden for long, and a biography by René Bazin in 1921 inspired some young men to follow him. The first fraternity of the Little Brothers of Jesus was setup in 1933 on the edge of the Sahara, but it was not until after the Second World War that numbers began to flourish.

The brothers work alongside the poorest in the world, 'taking the lowest place', as Charles had done. Living in groups of two or three, Jesus is their centre. Soon women too espoused the vocation and the Little Sisters of Jesus were formed in the same spirit. On 13 November 2005 Charles was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.

Charles de Foucauld has left us this most-challenging of prayers,

beautiful to recite, but difficult to say it with true conviction. It's a prayer of future aspiration rather than of present reality, at least it is for me!

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures- I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

Charles de Foucauld.

God Our Father, you called your servant Charles de Foucauld

to discover the infinite greatness of your love

by contemplating the life of Jesus of Nazareth, your Son,

who became flesh,

who humbled himself to the point of death,

who was raised to life,

and who sent the Holy Spirit

as his first gift to those who believe.

WORLD AIDS DAY takes place on the 1st of December each year. Started in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

God of Promise, today we are mindful of our sisters and brothers

suffering with HIV and AIDS. We ask your healing presence on millions of people living with the disease today; particularly the children who are infected or who have been orphaned by the disease.

Make of us a safe haven for those who are abandoned, discriminated against

and rejected on account of their illness.

Inspire us to speak out for a just distribution of health care and medical aid

in this country and for generosity in sharing our resources

with those struggling under the weight of this epidemic overseas.

As we begin our Advent celebration of waiting in hope for the birth of your Son,

let us remember those across the world who wait in hope for a cure.


Lord, I'm glad I can talk to you. You’re always there - even when my head is somewhere else. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed ashamed, afraid to face the future.

It’s hard living with a stigma. It’s not what people say. It’s what they don't say. It’s the knowing smiles, and the sheepish looks. They all add up to a feeling of accusation.

Lord, I’m glad I can talk to you Nothing surprises you. You’ve been where I’ve been You’ve felt the discrimination Experienced the betrayal the hurt the name calling the whispering in corners the religious prejudice.

Lord, You make me feel whole again You include me in You make me feel understood Your extravagant generosity leaves me speechless. Words fail me as I try to say Thank you You draw me You give me a place in the picture You tell me I belong even when I can't believe.

Lord, you’re unbelievable!

Christian Aid

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