Algeria is a ticking time bomb, with a surge in migration, an uncertain political climate, and an economic crisis facing its 43 million inhabitants, two-thirds of whom are aged under 30, with one-third of its young people unemployed. And the Islamists are waiting for their moment.

Such a situation needs hope, hope in the future of the country. Father Paul-Elie has this Hope. He knows his own country, he knows his own people, and he has an insight in to what people are thinking – and not just the Christians. As a young man he was a Muslim, in those days he was called Ali. He lived through the dark years of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s.

Over 200,000 people died, in a pitiless battle between Islamist extremists and the army. That was when he lost Hope, no longer believing in anything, focusing only on his studies towards his diploma in information theory. One day he went with a cousin to a hidden chapel run by an Evangelical Christian community. ‘There I heard Jesus’, he recalls. ‘He spoke to me by my name and told me He was protecting me and had always done so. I felt loved as never before. I was deeply moved, and for ten minutes I could only weep.’ 

He was baptised, but he still hungered for the Truth. Years later a Catholic missionary revealed the fullness of Truth and he converted. But Islamists learned that he had converted, and hunted him, threatening his family. He left for Europe, still restless at heart. In Belgium he joined a religious community, then moved on to France and at the age of 34 began to study Theology. Six years later, in 2016, he was ordained to the priesthood.

Now he is home again, a priest of the Missionary Fraternity of John Paul II. In the name of the Fraternity, or rather ‘in Jesus’ name’, he has returned to Algeria. ‘I am needed here’, he says. ‘My heart is at peace, even if the storms should rage around me.’ He recalls the words of Saint Teresa of Avila who once complained to the Lord, saying Where were you, my beloved Jesus? Where were you during this terrible storm?’ 

Our Lord responded, I was in the innermost depths of your heart.’ That’s how Father Paul-Elie feels as well, and it is this inner peace from God that he wants to bring to his people. According to the Protestant Church of Algeria there are over 200,000 converts from Islam, most of them are Protestants, but the number of Catholics is also growing.

Precise figures are hard to come by. Most live in the Kabylie region of northern Algeria where Father Paul-Elie comes from. Many of them live widely scattered among the mountain villages.

He wants to bring them the Lord in the Eucharist. He wants to lead a ‘dialogue of coexistence’ between Catholics and other faiths in the villages so that they can all experience the love of Christ.

But for this work he needs a robust vehicle, and he has asked us to help him. We have promised to help him bring Hope, invincible Hope in the Risen One.

This article can be found in Mirror 0318.