Takashuf, ‘Austerity’ – this is the current economic policy in Algeria. And yet, in Algiers, despite the economic crisis, they are building a mosque with the highest minaret in the world. It is intended to accommodate around 100,000 worshippers. Meanwhile, the tiny Catholic minority in Skikda in the east of the country would be more than happy with a small chapel for half a dozen Christian believers.

The former parish church of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was turned into an orphanage for foundling children during the 1970s when there were simply not enough Christians. But the old presbytery was retained by the parish. In 2010 they began converting it into a multipurpose centre. The roof and lean-to extension have been repaired and water, gas and electricity supplies connected.

Everyone has pitched in – students, the parish priest himself, friends and even visitors. Now the time has come to start on the chapel. A sliding door will cut off any noise outside and ensure they can pray in silence. But, of course, the diocese of Constantine itself has not been left unscathed by the economic crisis in the country. The community relies on donations, and these have been far fewer in the past couple of years. At the same time, building materials have become even more expensive.

And yet the community is growing. Most of the Sunday Mass attendees are students from Algeria, Egypt, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and even Asians all of whom in recent times have been asking for Baptism. Conversion is not a punishable crime under the Algerian penal code, although an ordinance of 2006 punishes those who seek to encourage conversions.

Many Muslims find the centre a ‘place of peace and freedom’. The example of prayer and love has an effect. Father Bernard puts it like this: Dialogue is the best antidote to the temptations to intolerance and violence.’

ACN’s support is what this small but flourishing community needs to complete the chapel and multipurpose centre. It will be a centre for a springtime of love in the shadow of the great mosque.

This article can be found in Mirror 0516.