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s2smodern

This summer I spent a month collaborating in the Society’s mission in Algeria. The experience represented a great consolation for me. On July 7th, four young people arrived in Constantine to experience the Découverte intérieure de l'Algérie, organized by the Jesuits of Algiers and Constantine. After a few days of orientation in Constantine, they sent us to work in different parts of the country. One went to Batna, a small eastern city, to collaborate in the local parish. Another stayed in Constantine to collaborate with Damien De Préville SJ in an urban camp with neighbourhood kids. The third was sent to Algiers, to the Ben Smen Spiritual Centre, to collaborate with Christophe Ravanel SJ in a house and garden maintenance program that links Algerian and sub-Saharan university student volunteers.

My destination was the Jesuit Residence in the centre of Algiers. I worked in the afternoon as a guide in the beautiful Basilica of Our Lady of Africa. In the mornings I would lend a hand to Ricardo Jiménez SJ at the University Cultural Centre (CCU) with a Spanish course, excursions and cultural activities with Algerian university students.

Algeria struck me as being more closed and isolated than I expected. I was also deeply impressed by the density of youth in the cities visited. Many young people, but very little activity: I would often see groups of young people just standing on the street, during the week, seemingly idle.

Shortly after I arrived, I was told about the dégoûtage, or disenchantment, in which many young people live: I corroborate it. It contrasts with the innocence of the university students. Their attitude towards life, their aspirations and their leisure activities are innocent, healthy: at least that is true for students of the CCU. They were grateful for all the activities we proposed, however simple (a picnic on the beach, a guitar session and songs in the garden ...).

I would highlight two things about my brief experience of work and life with the Algerian population, which is mostly Muslim. In the first place, I would emphasize the call to serve and love this people gratuitously, without expecting productivity: I think such an approach allows one to serve more freely. Secondly, I would note that Christian testimony happens largely through listening, silence, attention to the other, the gratuity of those who do not seek to convince but rather demonstrate their faith with simplicity and joy, speaking of it, when asked.

It has been a joy to be able to participate in the life of a Church that is small and still developing a Church that is full of life, of the Gospel, of possibilities and of the future, despite the real difficulties that it faces. How beautiful it is to live that encounter with the Spirit of Christ, who acts even beyond the bounds of the Church, inspiring joy, enthusiasm, and hope in young people, mostly Muslims, in a country that is on its way to being built.

In addition to being able to communicate in French, a volunteer who goes to Algeria should have the desire to enter without fuss into a way of living that is different from their own, a desire to joyfully embrace some discomfort and to discover in the challenges and differences the richness of what is genuine in the other.

As a Christian, the volunteer who goes to Algeria can live a beautiful experience of deepening in their faith. On many occasions they will have to give reasons for their faith with kindness, “delicacy and respect” (1Pe 3,16), presenting with simplicity what one is, believes and loves, in a daily interreligious dialogue and without great pretensions beyond the encounter with the other, beyond that “give and take” of listening and understanding.

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s2smodern