By Carolina McCabe
Rabat – Behind massive walls in Midelt, central Morocco, lies the small Catholic community of Notre Dame de L’Atlas. The walls enclose a large courtyard, a small chapel, and a memorial for the seven brothers of Tibhirine who were killed in Algeria.
The community, belonging to the Cistercian order, was originally from the Atlas Abbey of Tibhirine near Medea, Algeria. During the Algerian Civil War, seven monks from the order were kidnapped, held for two months, and found decapitated in May of 1996. The Algerian government announced later that month that the heads of the clergymen had been discovered.
Two monks, Father Jean-Pierre and Father Amedee, managed to escape the kidnapping and survived the deadly attack.
In 2010, a film about the tragedy, “Des Hommes et des Dieux” (Of Gods and Men), won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
The two surviving monks left Algeria and traveled to the current Notre Dame de l’Atlas monastery in Midelt, Morocco. The new order, which began in 2001, was formed by a community of monks who joined the two survivors of Tibhirine. Inside the compound, the monks work, pray, live, and welcome visitors. Father Amedee died in 2008, and Father Jean Pierre Schumacher is the only living survivor of the 1996 tragedy.
Living within the monastery are six brothers from France, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal. The brothers follow the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also called Trappists, a Roman Catholic contemplative order dedicated to prayer.
Brother Anthony McNamara, a monk from Ireland, came to the monastery after recognizing the increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of ISIS killings. McNamara became invested in the Syrian crisis and learned about the devastation that Muslim people experience attributed to ISIS.
It was after McNamara saw powerful images and news stories about victims in Syria that he came to the realization that the violence was affecting everyone. “This brought home to me how we are all, Christian and Muslim, caught up in this terrible violence,” said McNamara. “We all believe in the same God, and here are these terrible murders being carried out in His name.”
As he celebrated midnight mass on Christmas Eve of 2015, McNamara decided to go to Notre Dame de L’Atlas to become a member of what he calls “a praying community amongst a praying community.”