Those who have seen the French film Of Gods and Men are familiar with the story of the Trappist monks who lived among the Muslim population in Tibhirine, a small town in Algiers – of how they stayed well after it was clear there was mortal danger to staying, and of how seven of them were kidnapped and assassinated in 1996.
The youngest of the assassinated monks was Christophe Lebreton, who began writing poetry and keeping a prayer journal several before terrorists first visit to the monastery at the end of 1993. His journal, which I am reading now, ends a week prior to the monks’ kidnapping.
Two sentences in that journal arrested me earlier today; it was the juxtaposition of two thoughts contained in Lebreton’s journal entry for January 13, 1994. Describing the events of the day he wrote
In Kabylia, a wali and his bodyguards were assassinated; in Algiers, policemen have been killed. At Vigils it was Cain killing Abel.
Cain and Abel. The first fratricide.
Fratricide is one of those sins we view as particularly wicked. Cain was cursed for killing his brother.
But the first thought I had when I read the two lines I just quoted was: It is always Cain killing Abel.
We pray – some of us every day – the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with the line “Our father.” Not “father.” Not “my father.” But “Our” father, a phrasing that acknowledges not only our relationship with God, but our relationship with each other.
If we take that seriously, if we accept that we are all children of God, then EVERY killing of one person by another is the killing of a brother or a sister. On that day in 1994 the wali and his bodyguards were killed by one or more brothers. On that same day, someone else killed their brother the policeman. Fratricide.
And today – or if not today tomorrow or the day after – someone else will commit the sin of Cain, killing a brother or a sister. Because whatever other name we give it, it is always Cain killing Abel.
Note: The book I am reading of Lebreton’s journal is titled: Born From the Gaze of God: The Tibhirine Journal of a Martyr Monk (1993-1996).