Charles de Foucauld




(Blessed Charles de Foucauld was beatified in 2005; his canonization was approved on May 27, 2020; this article was written in honor of his beatification for the Misyon Magazine and can also be found in their online site)

The late Pope John Paul II scheduled beatifications in Rome for 15 May 2005, Pentecost Sunday. He earned the reputation of being a saint-maker, beatifying and canonizing more holy men and women than all his predecessors. Some jeered at this practice, thinking that by increasingly adding to the roster of ‘blesseds’ and saints, he was trivializing the privilege once given strictly to very few.

John Paul II, however, had a more pressing agenda. Naming new ‘blesseds’ and saints was for him an act of inspiring the world in the midst of today’s troubles, an infusion of a new sense of hope to the Church and the world struggling against the darkness and pain that constantly grab the imagination of the daily news – wars, corruption and deceit, terrorism, exploitation, dehumanization.

The pope believed that the world was and continues to be inhabited by witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ, people whose ardent love for God serves as flickers of light that illuminate the world. This optimistic attitude of John Paul II inspired us all, up to the ultimate moment of his own self-sacrifice. No wonder that now many Catholics and non-Catholics alike are advocating his canonization.

Because of the death of Pope John Paul the beatifications were postponed until 13 November. Among those beatified was a man simply known as Brother Charles – Charles de Foucauld, a Frenchman of noble birth. In hindsight it would seem on his deathbed Charles the pope (Karol or Charles was the pope’s baptismal name) introduced to the world Charles de Foucauld, the universal brother.

A man who cried the Gospel with his life

Who is this man, now ‘Blessed Charles,’ and how can he help us make meaning of our own strivings in faith?

Brother Charles of Jesus lived a classic story of conversion. Born in Strasbourg, France, on 15 September 1958, he was exposed to a tragic childhood with the early death of his parents, this and many other factors joined to destroy the seed of faith in his heart. By the time he was an adolescent, he was also an unbeliever.

Later he joined the French army and there proved to be a maverick. After quitting military service, he became an explorer, a feat that brought him to the Sahara where he daily observed the piety of the Muslims. This led him to consider his own relationship with God, which blossomed once again after he met a holy priest, Abbé Henri Huvelin, (‘Abbé’ is the title given to diocesan priests in France) who challenged him to go to confession. He wrote,  ‘As soon as I believed there was a God, I understood I could do nothing else but live for him. My religious vocation dates from the same moment as my faith: God is so great. There is such a difference between God and everything that is not.’

With the ardor of a convert, Brother Charles sought to make up for lost time. He was totally enraptured by his new relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that he sought the Lord everywhere. He traveled to Nazareth seeking to imitate the simplicity and obscurity of the early years of the Lord. He joined the Trappists, left them later, worked as a gardener for the Poor Clares in Nazareth and was later ordained a priest.

He went in 1901, with his bishop’s permission, to live as a hermit in Beni Abbès, Algeria. He later divided his time between there and Tamanrasset, in the southern Sahara, among the Touareg people. The move to Algeria carried with it a novelty – he went, not to make converts to Christianity among the Muslim population, but simply as a brother, like Jesus, living and sharing everything with those around him. Brother Charles learned the language of his neighbors, even writing a dictionary of their language. He shared their companionship and friendship. He carried them in his heart as he prayed in his hermitage.

The ransacking of his humble house by bandits on 1 December 1916 led to Brother Charles’ ultimate self-sacrifice. His place was looted and he was shot to death. As he fell to the ground, so also did Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, whom he adored night and day, found lying close to his lifeless body.

He sought to be like Jesus

The marks of very human struggles, difficulties and joys punctuated the life of Brother Charles. It’s easy to feel an affinity with him. He experienced deep doubts in the face of problems. His lived restlessness was quenched only by the assuring words of the Gospel. There was the joy of discovery in his meeting with Jesus as he returned to his Catholic roots.

Today, it is clear that Brother Charles’ fascination with the life of Jesus in Nazareth can be the antidote to materialism and consumerism. His desire to become a ‘universal’ brother can lead us to examine our own tendencies to be distrustful of others and exclusive in our relationships. He lived and died in the desert, a place rich in biblical and early Christian interpretation – one that uncovers the reality of deep dependence on God alone, instead of on possessions, relationships and power.

Living in close proximity to Muslims, Brother Charles was a herald of the contemporary Church’s approach to other world religions; he was neither judgmental nor condemnatory – but affirming in the other religion what is good and beneficial to humanity. He sought to bring the love of Jesus to others by being their brother, earning their trust and extending his hand to those in need.

Brother Charles sought to be like Jesus, the Son of God who was a gift to the world as the Firstborn Son, the Brother of all. Charles wanted to be called a universal brother.

The Filipino Family of Brother Charles

Although Charles de Foucauld was certainly intended by John Paul II as a model for the universal Church, there was distinctive rejoicing here in the Philippines. In our country, we can find living traces of Brother Charles’ influence and presence through his ‘spiritual family.’

Though no one successfully imitated the rigid and disciplined life of Charles in his lifetime, he attracted followers after his death. As the Gospel testifies, when the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, only then does it bear much fruit. Soon after Brother Charles reflections and tragic death became known, men and women breathed life into his religious ideals.

Among those who follow his spirituality are two groups present in the Philippines for over twenty years, the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of Jesus. These are religious families of men and women who are contemplatives in the midst of the world. Unlike most religious brothers and sisters who operate schools, work as nurses and office administrators, and often move around in cars, these men and women choose to literally live the life of the poor.

They live in simple residences with simple and poor neighbors. Like their neighbors, they work manually for their daily support. The brothers have been employed as gardeners, vulcanizing attendants, street vendors; the sisters as laundry women, street-sweepers and factory workers.

In their simple daily routine, these heirs of Brother Charles find Jesus in their unbroken contact with the life-realities of their co-workers and neighbors. It is preaching the Gospel at its best, since witnessing is the most credible form of proclamation, more effective than mere words.

Priests too, both religious and diocesan, have found strength for their pastoral ministry through the example of Brother Charles. An international fraternity of priests called Jesus-Caritas is present in the Philippines in small groups called fraternities, from Luzon to Mindanao. Every fraternity regularly meets to adore the Blessed Sacrament, reflect on the Gospel and on the vicissitudes of priestly life and where the members can remind one another to live in simplicity, love for the poor and fidelity in service.

Truly, Brother Charles’ beatification is as much a local as an international affair. The spirit of this Frenchman is present in our country through men and women who have found an impetus to their Christian life through the observance of the great passion and the simple humility of one who found the ‘pearl of great price’ and did not keep it to himself.


Now that our beloved pontiff John Paul II has been laid to rest, his legacy of discovering the positive in our world continues. We have much to thank him for infecting the Church with the conviction that sainthood, official or unofficial, is a living reality even today. The world teems with the cogent testimony of lives lived in closeness to the person and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. One such person is Blessed Charles de Foucauld, whose spirit is at home with Filipino Christianity.

Thanks to our father Charles (Karol) Wojtyla for sharing with us our brother, Charles of Jesus.

by Fr. RMarcos, Misyon Magazine online (July-August 2006)