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Father Antoine Chatelard, a life in the footsteps of Charles de Foucauld



What mark does Father Antoine Chatelard leave? Father Bertrand Gournay, priest of the diocese of Gap, first remembers two blue eyes, which stared at you for a long time before giving an answer to the question asked. Their meeting dates back to 2014 when the Gapençais priest was sent as Fidei Donum to Tamanrasset, in the Algerian Sahara, where the religious of the Congregation of the Little Brothers of Jesus still resides. After more than 60 years, he continues to investigate the spiritual figure of his congregation, Charles de Foucauld, who lived in these lands during the first two decades of the XXe century, among the Tuareg peoples.

From 1954 to 2016, Antoine Chatelard tried to put into practice “the ideal of Nazareth”, that is to say the hard-working life, in the midst of crowds, specific to the Little Brothers of Jesus. Baker, then employed to carry out the precipitation statement in the region, he also devoted himself to the reception of the people of passage, but especially to the understanding of the personality of Charles de Foucauld, until being inspired by it in his life. personal.

Rooted through work

In 1954, shortly after his arrival in the region, Antoine Chatelard decided with Jean-Marie Cortade, a religious from his community, to leave the small town of Tamanrasset for the Assekrem plateau, where the dry stone hermitage is located. by Charles de Foucauld, abandoned since his death in 1916. The two monks set about restoring it, then lived there for some time. An experience at the origin of Antoine Chatelard’s passion for the life and work of the mystic, who will never leave him. Following his example, he learned the language of the Tuareg peoples from contact with the inhabitants. He meets first or second hand witnesses, then, after his return to Tamanrasset, gets down to writing a first book on the circumstances of Charles de Foucauld’s death (1). Another will follow, “Le chemin vers Tamanrasset” (2).

“Antoine was a simple and affable man, a workaholic, but in a calm and meticulous kind”, tells Mgr Claude Rault, bishop emeritus of Laghouat, in the Algerian Sahara. “Over time, it has developed an exceptional rooting in the region”. Working among the local populations, as is the rule of the Little Brothers of Jesus, constantly in contact with Tuareg societies as part of his research, Antoine Chatelard quickly established himself, thanks to his prodigious memory, as a local reference. “It had become a source of the history of places and families for the inhabitants of Tamanrasset”, remembers Father Bertrand Gournay.

Leave Algeria without stopping writing

In 2016, it’s heartbreaking. Particularly because of health problems, the religious left Tamanrasset for Marseilles, where he joined a community also practicing “the ideal of Nazareth”. Claude Rault, who also experienced the return to France, easily imagines what he felt. “It is always hard to leave a region where we have lived for so long. But I think his literary work helped him in this change ”.

Because even in Marseille, Antoine Chatelard continues to work on the life of Charles de Foucauld. The key is a third book, which should soon be published by Salvator. The latest investigation by this detail enthusiast who sought, far from any idealization, to unravel the mystery of a life spent discovering and serving others.

Antoine Chatelard’s funeral will be chaired by Mgr Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseille, in the Sainte-Marthe church in Marseille, Wednesday January 6 at 3 p.m.

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