"Today it is necessary to begin by struggling
against one’s own violence”
Sr. Paul- Hélène Saint- Raymond
Little Sister of the Assumption
«…To procure the Glory of God by the Salvation of the poor and little ones, in the way of Incarnation followed by Jesus the Servant, the One sent by the Father, who laid down His life to save humankind and gather them together as one people. »
She was born into a profoundly Christian family, the eighth of ten children.
After studying at the Sorbonne and a short period of time spent in professional life, she entered the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Assumption where she made her vows on the 29th of July, 1954. During her first years of religious life, she was successively sent to Creil in the north of Paris, to the house of studies in rue Morère during her nursing training, then to the St Ambroise community in Paris (11th arrondissement) and later to Petit Quevilly near Rouen.
It was in 1963, at Les Sources, that Algiers welcomed her. She remained there until 1973. After a brief stay in Tunis in 1974, she went to Casablanca in Morocco in 1975. In 1984 it was Algeria again, in Ksar el Boukhari, and in 1988 she returned to Algiers (Belcourt).
At that time, she began her missionary work at the Ben Cheneb library in the Casbah. Paul-Hélène, a woman who bore God through simple actions, who loved with a free and open heart, to Him she consecrated her life with a Yes forever. She proclaimed the Life, Mission, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, Servant and Saviour, in the midst of the Moslem culture, among those who were not Christians. She bravely revealed the loving face of God Father and Mother in a country where there were intense conflicts at different levels and in different situations.
Algeria was experiencing a civil war. In various excerpts from letters sent by Sister Paul-Hélène to her family or to the general council of the congregation we can read:
'You are surely wondering what we are experiencing here, and how we are living through it... doing our best, no doubt?
... There are serious problems:
· Attacks, acts of sabotage in the cities, the building up of real underground forces in the mountainous areas; it seems that the groups are varied and autonomous ... But both the violence of the terrorism and the violence of the repression used against it are breeding profound hatred and bitterness that will leave their mark for a long time.
· The patronage and corruption that made so many people wealthy under the last régime seem untouched (a minister of justice, with a reputation for competence and integrity, who had tried to do something under Abdesselem, was soon dismissed). And that nurtures terrorism by reaction... or by secret alliances? (Who was behind Boudiaf's assassination? And the assassination of the economists Liabès and Boukhobza, given the responsibility of a programme of analyses and economic forecasting…?)
· The economic and social situation continues to deteriorate: inflation over 30%, salaries frozen, unemployment becoming more widespread, businesses coming to a complete standstill (when they haven't been set afire): Abdesselem's economic policy (summer '92 to summer '93) was: austerity – reduction of imports; but, without natural resources, or spare parts, how can the management of businesses be "cleaned up"? bring any "health" into the way businesses are managed? Since then, Redha Malek has been trying since to restore ties with international institutions and foreign businesses. But the still 'imminent' agreement with the IMF and IRDB has still not been signed, it seems. Is this for fear of social upheaval? Fear of unpopularity++ as a political term comes to an end? Reservations on the part of the IMF?
The drop in the price of oil means that the income can barely cover the interest on the debt...
· As for foreign businesses, the new investment code that has been promulgated is supposed to make things 'attractive', but the security situation is less so; the strategy is clear: in Egypt, the Islamists are trying to "destabilize the government" by attacking tourists (tourism is a major source of revenue); here they have to avoid having foreign countries, and Europe in particular, throw their economic weight into the battle. The recent anti-immigration measures, the non-renewal of papers for ISF activists in Europe have probably also something to do with the attacks against foreigners... As for foreign women married to Algerians, they are also targeted... To understand this re-read Esdras and Nehemiah!
In another letter, she wrote a little before Easter:
“... the situation is continuing to deteriorate. While last summer we were speaking of "a latent civil war", now we have to say that "we're right in the middle of a civil war". The underground forces run by groups in the mountainous regions control the villages and hamlets in their zone and force their pitiless, ferocious rule on them; in the towns, assassinations, racketeering, acts of sabotage are on the rise and strike anywhere, at any time, at anything and anyone ‑ including women, old people, adolescents, sometimes children.”
Lives for the Reign of Life
Paul-Hélène lived in the Belcourt district of Algiers; this is also a poor neighbourhood but is less exposed than the Kasbah where three sisters of the community lived.
“Called to live in this isolated house we are conscious of the precariousness of our mission and, therefore, of the richness of the gift God has for us.”
She left as usual on the morning of the 8th of May. It had been agreed that if there was any unrest, she would stay and spend the night in the Kasbah. For some months, in order to avoid making too many journeys back and forth, Paul-Hélène used to work all day on Sunday (in predominantly Moslem countries Sunday is an ordinary day, while Friday is a holiday), and take her meal at the Kasbah (10 minutes from the Ben Chebeb library). So that is what she did on the 8th of May. She left the Kasbah house at about 1:30 p.m. and went to open the library where she took her place in the courtyard at the entrance to welcome the secondary school students. She had her little table in the corner and, on another table, the boxes with index cards for use by the students.
Three men appeared and said: 'Police!' Paul-Hélène led them to Henri's office, as they had apparently asked to see the person in charge. One of the men took out his revolver and aimed it at the back of Paul-Hélène's neck. She fell backwards, killed instantly. When the sisters of her community arrived on the scene they 'found her stretched out, arms almost crossed, hands open, very peaceful, a slight smile upon her lips', one of them said.
A second shot was heard, and Henri collapsed. Henri had probably stood up, was shot, and fell face down upon his desk. The bullet had cut through his face at the level of the cheekbone and lodged in the wall. Only a trained gunman could have fired such a shot.
Messages were sent by the different institutions in solidarity with the after the sad news of the assassination of the two men religious who were filled with passion for the Reign of God and with love for the neighbour:
Communiqué from the Union
of Islamic Organisations of France:
“'Two French religious were assassinated in Algeria by unknown killers on the very day a march took place calling for dialogue and national reconciliation.
This assassination, striking innocent people, goes against all principles, and is a grievous blow to the image of Algeria.
The Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) vigorously condemns this odious crime, as well as all the acts of violence perpetrated in Algeria, and calls on all the belligerents to end this bloodshed which serves only to lead the country into chaos.”
Our Father, of the poor who are marginalised.
Our Father, of the martyrs, of those who are tortured.
Your name is sanctified in those who die
Gospel: John 20:19-31
Prayers of the community:
Response: In Christ we are all brothers (Mt. 23:8)
O God of kindness, look at our wounded world that is falling under the weight of its egoism and help us to raise up those who are frail and forgotten on this earth. Let us pray
We ask you, help us to grow in inter-religious dialogue and love, that we may be promoters of the culture of peace and of care for life. Let us pray.
Lord, send vocations to the congregation of the Little Sisters of the assumption so that, following the example of Paul-Hélène, they may be bearers of life and of hope in this world that is thirsting for Peace and Justice. Let us pray.
Lord God, our Father,
We praise you for the Passion and Death
And the Resurrection of your Son Jesus,
He, the greatest of martyrs,
By whom salvation comes.
You desired that his martyrdom be shared
With our brothers and sisters
Of the Church in Algeria:
Henri and Paul-Hèlene, Caridad and Esther,
Jean, Charles, Alain and Christian,
Angèle-Marie and Bibiane, Odette,
Christian, Luc, Christophe, Michel,
Bruno, Célestin and Paul,
And your bishop Pierre.
We ask you, Father, that,
By their intercesión,
That the dialogue, respect and love may be strengthened
Between your Christian and Moslem sons.
Bless Algeria and its people,
We glorify you, in peace.
Father, we invoke our martyrs for …
(at this point, fomulate petitions that are entrusted to our martyrs)
And you Mary, whom all love
And who are also venerated in the house of Islam,
Listen to our prayer and intercede with your Son,
Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.