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Summer of Mercy Video series - Week 2

Feature Film:  Of Gods and Men (2010, 1hr-41 min)

About the story:
What does it feel like when you’re minding your own businesses but get caught in the middle of something over which you have no control.  What do you do?  Keep doing what you’re doing or pack your bags and move on?

Psalm 82:6-7 reads:  I declare: “Gods though you be, offspring of the Most High all of you, Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall.”  The “gods” in this Psalm refers to those people for whom the Word of God has been revealed.  In this case, it refers to a community of Trappist monks in the remote area of Tibhirine, Algeria.  In the early 1990’s they find themselves in the middle of a Civil War, where a corrupt government is battling with armed Islamic insurgents looking to take over.

This small Christian monastery is surrounded by a rural, exclusively Muslim community, but they have managed to foster good relations with their neighbors, providing medical care and help to the locals.  Those same Muslim locals also consider the monks to be part of their community, and often invited to take part in their lives and special celebrations.  But when the civil unrest spreads to their remote village, everyone in the community is forced to make some very difficult choices.

About the film:
Released in 2010, our film is based on a true story, taking us to early 1990's Algeria, where civil war has broken out between a corrupt government and groups of Islamic militants.  In the middle is a small monastery of Trappist monks is forced to make some difficult choices in the midst of growing unrest and violence.  What does it feel like when you’re minding your own businesses but get caught in the middle of something over which you have no control?  What do you do?  Keep doing what you’re doing or pack your bags and move on?  What does God's mercy look like?  Join us for this powerful and moving film.

The film is in French with English subtitles, but don't let the subtitles scare you away... the story is very visual, and the dialog is easy to follow.  This film was the Grand Prize winner of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and winner of the Best Foreign Language film in the 2010 National Board of Review.

About the Trappists:
Trappist Monks are a branch of the Cistercian Order, officially the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – OCSO, formed in 1892.  They have approximately 170 monasteries and convents worldwide, including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.  The 2,100 monks and 1,800 nuns adhere to the Rule of St. Benedict (480-550 CE).  The communities live off what they can produce and sell while living a cloistered lifestyle.  Outward evangelization is not their goal, but rather to practice hospitality, sharing, and fostering good relationships with their neighbors.  Special effort is made for sharing with the poor, foreigners, and those who are suffering.  Most of their monasteries are in remote areas, and every monk sets aside one day a month to walk in nature and meditate alone.

About Algeria:
Algeria, located in Northwestern Africa is a country of 40m people, 99% who are Muslim.  In ancient times the area was settled by the Carhaginian Empire (Carthage is in modern day Tunisia), which grew up west of ancient Egypt and eventually controlled much of the Mediterranean cost, including what is now Southern Spain.  Eventually it fell the Roman Empire.  As Rome became Christian, so did Algeria under St. Augustine when he was Bishop of Hippo, but as Rome began to crumble, the area fell under the rule of several local powers, until the Arabs concurred the territory in the 7th century.  It became part of the larger Fatimid Caliphate until their power waned and the territory fell under the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1516 CE.  By the 17th century the area became unstable with a lot of pirate activity, making it ripe for the French to capture Algiers in 1830 and making it a French Colony.  The Colonial relationship started falling apart in 1954, with all out war against France, and ended with independence being recognized in 1962.  Independence brought stability, but there was tension between secular and pro-Islamist regimes.  The collapse of Oil prices in the early 1980’s brought that tension to a head with all out Civil War starting in 1991.  The violence continued to get worse and after several well publicized massacres in 1996-1997 (including the killing of these 7 monks), international pressure for the violence to end.  A peace and amnesty deal was brokered in 2000, and within two years the insurgency mostly disappeared.  Though the government lifted the 19-year-old state of emergency in 2011, there is still instability in the region.


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