A leading English Dominican theologian was rescued by a bishop from an angry mob during a recent visit to Algeria. Bishop Jean-Paul Vesco of Oran was driving Fr Timothy Radcliffe, a former master general of the Dominican order, to the Sahara when the situation suddenly grew dangerous.
Fr Radcliffe told The Catholic Herald: “When we were on our way to visit a tiny community of the Petits Frères de Jesus in the Sahara we had to stop the car because there was fighting ahead. We noticed that a taxi was trying to bypass the fighting by driving up a muddy track (there had been a lot of rain even there), and so a number of cars followed. But we all got bogged down and it was impossible to continue. And so we made our way back to the road.
“But the rioters/insurgents or whoever had spotted us and were waiting with stones. The taxi was first and was quickly immobilised, with large stones put in front of it, so that the passengers could be taken hostage. We were next, and people blocked our passage, and started to put down stones in front of us.
“I spotted one young chap with a stone the size of a football. At first I thought that he was going to throw it through the windscreen. I tried to engage his eyes and transmit the impression that I was another human being, maybe like his favourite uncle! The bishop spotted a gap, slammed his foot on the accelerator and escaped, with a few stones hitting the back of the car. If we had delayed even 20 seconds we would have been caught. And I have no idea what would have happened then. It is a minor incident, the sort of thing that missionaries often endure.”
Fr Radcliffe was visiting Algeria to take part in a year-long period of reflection on the Church’s future in the North African nation.