By ROBERT SENCOURT
WHEN towards the end of April I was staying at the monastery of Tioumliline in the Atlas mountains above and beyond Fez, the old capital of Morocco. I was told that the whole community was about to drive fifty or sixty miles along the great valley beneath us which led on to that of Morocco's main river, the Um r R'bia (mother of verdure) on the banks of which lies the Berber city of Khenifra.
On through the valley for some twelve miles more, and then the road turned to the left and began to ascend into another height of the mountains, El Kebbab, the main mountain centre of all that part of the Middle Atlas.
And why was this French Benedictine Community all hastening to this remote fastness? It was for the funeral of that Catholic priest who had—far more than any other Frenchman in the whole country— the love and reverence of the Berbers among whom he had chosen to live.
Charles de Foucauld
FORTY-SEVEN years ago, when Lyautey began his pacification of Morocco, the tribes of this region had said that they would not accept the French suzerainty. Their redoubtable chief, Moha-u-Hama, had resisted them; and his men had cut to pieces the force which a French commander too rashly led against him.
As we drove along a lonely valley we came to a stone monument which commemorated the day when hundreds of Frenchmen had fallen there But later, Moha-u-Hamu recognising the value of the friendship of Lyautey, had toms to terms with him. But these Zaian tribes were among the most warlike and virile of the whole Atlas range.
It was for that very reason that in 1926, the year when Lyautcy left Morocco, Pere Peyriguere had chosen to establish his hermitage in this remote spot. He more than any other man of our time had renewed the romance of Charles de Foucauld who sixty and eighty years ago had wandered among the tribes of Algiers and Morocco into the Sahara, and who had lived among them and won their hearts as a man who lived a holy life and sought their good.
By his burning devotion and holiness he gained their admiration and loyalty.
Near to the people
THE priest who had just died had followed in his train.
He belonged to a good bourgeois family of Bordeaux. Born in 1886 he came to Morocco while still a young priest and set out, like Charles de Foucauld, to live as near as he could to the people.
After wandering up and down Morocco specialising on the Berbers, and on those mountain tribes of them who call themselves Schleuh, he had already learnt their language and their ways when thirty-three years ago he chose to build what he called his rabbit hutch at El Kebbab.
When I saw it that mountain village was crowded with big cars and many strangers. The Archbishop of Rabat had come to conduet the funeral.
With him were many admirers of the dead priest whose body lay in an arched alcove hung with the crimson mats which arc woven in that part of the Middle Atlas. It was covered with flowers.
In the courtyard beside it the sweet scent of the flowering acacia filled the sunny mountain air, and then after a young priest had read. first in French, then in Berber. that part of the Gospel which ends, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these my hreth ren, yc have done it unto Me", the body was carried to a high ledge above the little terrace garden of the dead priest. There, according to his will, it lies for ever among the people that he loved.
Revered as a saint
THROUGH all that region they had revered him as a saint. They came to him to cure their illnesses. to counsel them in their difficulties: It was said that few of them would undertake any important enterprise till they had consulted him.
At all times they turned to him and sought his blessing. Before his devotion and his ardour, as before that of Charles de Foucauld, the barriers of Islam were thrown down.
He notonly went about doing good whenever the occasion came. He got up at night to pray two hours before the Blessed Sacrament, He said his daily Mass and offices. But at the same time he became the friend and champion of the people—he made their cause his own and backed it against the long obstinate effort of the French to keep the government in their own hands.
He more than any other showed the force of the old saying of Lyautey: "Let us never forget that in Morocco there are Moroccans".
Too many did forget it. In 1956, the last year of the Protectorate, out of some 8.000 administrative posts there were not three hundred held by the people of the country though they outnumbered the French in it by nineteen to one; and before Pere Peyriguere died he could see them taking over these posts and administrating efficiently. That was the day he worked for—when the people should receive justice from his own countrymen.
They came from afar
THIS was the man who inspired the Archbishop of Rabat with the projeet of importing a Community to assimilate his tradition and follow his example. "Pere Peyrigutere", said the Abbe Lepp in his excellent book Midi Supine an Maroc, "was not only shown as the best witness of Christ in Morocco, he had done more than any other to make the name of France loved among a section of the people.
"Long since the Berbers of the Middle Atlas have been venerat ing him as their special saint, their 'Marabout'. they come from far away to touch with their foreheads the stones his feet have trod.
"For several years his prestige has been equally high among the cultivated young elite of the towns."
He set an example which profoundly changed the attitude of many Christians—he set a model for Tioumliline to the monks of which he taught the Berber language; long before the later awakening of a Catholic conscience with regard to Morocco he had given the perfect example of a missionary life perfectly adapted to the ways of the country.
Like Fr. Labe among the Chinese. like Pere Monchainin in India, he had made the choice which Dom Bede Griffiths has made in Kerala; he lived as a Berber among the Berbers. He made it his mission to protect the weak: he moved among the Schleuchs as their leader and representative.
Fired by his
ON myway back II-1 from the funeral we were entertained at Khcnifra by the Qaid who had succeeded to Moha-u-hamu. He had a fortified palace, a Qasba, above the Urn r R'bia, and as we sat down on cushions to drink his mint tea two handsome girls, his daughters. watched us across the courtyard. From him we heard with our own ears what the people in all those hills and valleys thought of the man who had died—and how glad they were that a young French priest, l'Abbe Michel Lafon, fired by his example, heel come to follow him in the lonely fastness which he had chosen for his home and his grave.
Those who before had sought his counsel, could now seek his intercession.