Algeria is the nation that now contains the towns and cities where Augustine was born and was resident for most of his life. Augustinians have been serving there since 1933. For a long time Augustinians had desired to serve in the land where Augustine was born and lived. After the French colonised Algeria in 1830, Augustinians were invited to open a community at Annaba near Hippo, butthe problem of unavailability of Augustinian personnel in Europe in the nineteenth century made this impossible.
Subsequent initiatives in 1845 and 1854 also failed to begin. It was not until 1933 that success was achieved, when the Basilica of Saint Augustine at Annaba (overlooking Hippo) was entrusted to the Maltese Province of the Order. Two other parishes were also staffed in 1951 and 1953 but, with the exodus of Europeans after Algerian independence in 1962, the Maltese drew back to having only the one community at Annaba.
In the area today there are very few Christians, and these are largely immigrants or workers from other parts of Africa or from other continents. It is against the law in Algeria to promote the Christian religion to the Moslem population. This small Augustinian community serves at the Basilica of St Augustine and assists at a Home for the Aged which is run by Little Sisters of the Poor; the inmates are aged and infirm Muslims. Two of the (Spanish) Augustinian Misioneras Sisters working in the Home were murdered there some years ago by Muslim fundamentalists.
As well, they welcome hundreds of Muslims who tour the Basilica of Saint Augustine to see its European architecture. Since 2005 the number of visitors to the Basilica has increased from 5,000 to 15,000 annually, ranging from school children to participants in international conferences; it also contains a rich library. In explaining the images of Augustine in the windows of the basilica, the Augustinians point out the importance of Saint Augustine - an Algerian - had in Western culture. The visitors appreciate hearing this. In this and other ways the Augustinians promote the growth of knowledge and tolerance between Islam and the Christian Faith.
The impressive Basilica of Saint Augustine at Annaba is located on a hill top that overlooks the ruins of Hippo Regius in the valley below, where once stood the Basilica of Peace used by Augustine 1,600 years ago. It was built in 1881 by Abbe Pougnet, the architect of the Reform church in Marseilles, France. The stone for its construction was imported from the south east of France.
The design of the basilica contains Arab, Byzantine, and Roman characteristics that represent Saint Augustine as a person of dialogue at the crossroads of different civilisations. Behind the building can be seen a Home for the Aged which is conducted by Little Sisters of the Poor. The inmates there are aged and infirm Muslims.
With an increasing acceptance by the government of Algeria of the significance of Augustine in the history of the nation, attention in recent years has been paid to restoration of the basilica, after years of official neglect. Financial grants from various nationas, public corporations and private donors enabled in 2004 repairs to the European leadlight ("stained glass") windows, and to the exterior stonework of the basilica.
Augustinians in Annaba minister in the basilica, and meet many of the pilgrims, tiurists and local visitors attracted to the building.
The community of the Order of Saint Augustine is located at Annaba (formerly called Hippo). What follows is a summary of an article in OSA Interactive early in 2004. It was written by an Augustinian who lived in Annaba in that year and had also done so for many years previously.
"A local Muslim woman donates her time on Thursdays to work in our library and, for some time now, has also been taking people, both Algerians and visiting foreigners, around the Basilica of Hippo. This illustrates what we as Christians, and above all as Augustinians, are called to be here in Algeria: the Church of Christ in and for Muslim and Algerian society, the disciples of Augustine among his own compatriots. For us, living the human and spiritual adventure with the Algerian people is the religious and Augustinian calling to serve all people."
"There was an earlier time in which it was forbidden to talk about Augustine. For too many years following Algerian independence, Augustine was viewed as a defender of Roman colonial imperialism. The intervention of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the dark years of terrorism, the great international convention on Augustine in Algiers and Annaba in 2002, have all helped change the course of Algerian history and altered the popular mentality. The most radical change has been concerning Saint Augustine himself. Algerians, passionate as he was, now want at all costs to appropriate his figure and his heritage."
"In the year 2004, the 1,650th year since the birth of Augustine, the government is making an effort to organise a conference in Annaba." "The National Tourism Office has recently published a booklet entitled "Augustine the Algerian," presenting various Augustinian sites and itineraries. Yet what struck me most when I arrived in Hippo a few days ago was an Algerian cheese called Saint Augustine. Augustine now joins Algerians at their dinner table. The front of the package is a picture of the bishop, apparently dressed as a friar, eating his cheese."
"Algerians are hungry and thirsty for peace, for true harmony, for true openness to the outside world. The majority are Muslims, and during a period of terrorism paid a high price for their profound desire not to close themselves in a fundamentalist form of Islam.They want to contribute to building a more fraternal humanity, one where all people are treated as persons and not as goods to be sold or exploited. They are eager for true values and are becoming aware that Augustine, their big brother, the son of Thagaste and leader of the people of Hippo, through his work and teaching, may be also a beacon to illuminate their minds and set their hearts aflame."
The renovation of the Basilica of St Augustine at Annaba.
(3 minutes 22 seconds).On 19 October 2013, with the official sponsorship of the President of the Republic of Algeria, Mr Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the nation and the Church celebrated together the inauguration of the fully restored Basilica of Saint Augustine. From Algerian state television news, dialogue in the French language. The video shows the interior of the basilica.
ALSO: 26 minutes @ https://youtu.be/nPCazFzhQz0 On 19 October 2013, with the official sponsorship of the President of the Republic of Algeria, Mr Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the nation and the Church celebrated together the inauguration of the fully restored Basilica of Saint Augustine. Dialogue in the French language. The video shows the interior of the basilica.
Photo Gallery For the Augnet photo gallery on Augustine and the Augustinians in Algeria (including the above pictures), click here.