School of difference

A responsibility that lasts

Project No 42-Algeria

Father Jose Maria Cantal, Missionary of Africa, proposes to you to help him continue the work already begun in the country where the White Fathers were born, Algeria. His project responds fully to the request of Pope Francis when he proposes intercultural dialogue to achieve peace. This is part of the responsibility received from our founder Cardinal Lavigerie.

Enter the School of Difference!
Where can one find a professional rapper, a nun from Burkina Faso and a physically handicapped person in one place? Where can one find a beekeeper, a bishop and a daughter of an Italian migrant? Where can Sunni Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and an undecided person be found in one place? Well, to all these questions, the only valid answer is this: we find all these people at the School of difference! This tremendous educational project was launched by the White Fathers in Tibhirine Monastery in 2011 and enabled more than 100 Algerian youth and many other countries to spend a splendid week learning from each other within a climate of peace.

Every day, after sunrise and joint activities, a time is allotted so that everyone can share a personal experience regarding diversity. Next, we discuss a topic using a questionnaire written in French and Arabic, and videos. The goal is not to reach consensus, but to hear all points of view. This is how we talk about friendship, social networks, their future, and the need to nurture their faith. In order to enrich them, we invite people who know how to transmit the taste for difference, sensitivity for small signs of destiny and love for a job well done. In this monastery there is beekeeping, which shows them all the economic, social and ecological implications.

The leaders of this monastery of the Cistercian monks, Notre-Dame-de-l'Atlas, who were killed in 1996, are always surprised to find such a varied group of young people living so well together. The working day at the monastery is very much appreciated, as we see when reading revealing comments during the final evaluation: “We helped make Tibhirine more beautiful.” and “We rebuilt the wall: we have left our mark forever.”

One of the peculiarities of the School of Difference is the hour of daily silence, which allows one to meditate on the exchanges of the day, to question their lives or to pray. Some go to the oratory to open their hearts to the Master of Life. A small notebook with sacred texts is offered to participants. This year, extracts from Pope Francis were added. Here are a few:

"Interreligious dialogue is an important part of the life of your churches; You know how mutual misunderstanding is the source of so much miscomprehension and sometimes even confrontation."

"The most effective antidote against all forms of violence is education for the discovery and acceptance of difference as wealth and fertility (to the bishops of the Maghreb)."

"I am pleased by the commitment to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue undertaken by you, young Catholics and Orthodox, with the involvement of young Muslims as well." 

Every year, the School of Difference tries to propose a concrete and positive experience of diversity. We believe in Algeria and its potential to welcome and for acceptance. This experience could never be perpetuated without the support and benevolence of all the people who help us. Dear Canadian benefactors, by agreeing to help us financially, you will show us that you trust us to continue this current project: without these students of difference, the School would no longer be possible! Similarly, if this school does not continue, the request of Pope Francis, to live in harmony despite the differences, could not be realized, for it is inscribed in the plan of God.

To tell you how much this school allows young people to live intense moments, we present to you a fraternal activity lived by these young people. At first, everyone writes, on balloons, what they like and what they do not like to be done to them; during the final prayer, the balloons reappear either to ask for forgiveness or to praise the One. May this coexistence, fragile as a balloon, last in the hearts of those who are friends and artisans of peace! May we count you among these people! It is in these terms that we put our hope in you, contributing to this unique missionary project in the country where the White Fathers began their lives. We would like to point out that the Society of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) was born in Algeria and was founded in 1868 by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, Archbishop of Algiers.

José Mª Cantal Rivas, M. Afr.