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Icon of Our Lady of Hope
Esmeraldas (Ecuador)
Some details*

Explanation of the icon
     When I painted this icon, I wanted to honor the memory of our Brothers, but also to enter into a perspective for contemplative dialogue with Judaism and Islam. 

At the same time, I was coming from an interpretation very precise but still rather obscure: the inheritance of Thibhirine was for me, at that very moment, like a tiny, hidden seed planted in the welcoming and understanding earth of Esmeraldas, "Our Lady of Hope," that I wanted to bring into my research.

The Colors
     There is the white one and the black one of our tradition that, added to the blue one, become the typical colors for a style of Arabic decoration. 
     Then there is red, the color of the coat of the Crucified One glorified, the color of the Name of God that is Love, the color of the Blood of the Lamb.  Also in red, there is Alpha and Omega, the letter Epsilon (the initial of Esmeraldas) and small crosses next to each of the seven martyrs.
The inscriptions
The words are written in various languages: 
-The Name of God is written in Arabic. 
-The "Shemà, Israel", in Hebrew (with an error: I forgot a stress point!) 
-The name of the community, in French. 
-and then some sentences, two by Dom Christian and one from each brother, in Spanish....
Examining the icon further, there are two other languages that are part of the world of biblical revelation and the way of the Church: 
- The Alpha and Omega, in Greek (down below, in one of the circles).
- The inscription on the Cross gives the rationale for Jesus' condemnation, in Latin (INRI) :  "This one is the king of the Jews!" 
Finally, on the band in clear blue, the date of the death of the brothers appears in Spanish:  "21 May 1996," as well as the last words of the will from Father Christian:  "Amen!  In H'Allah!" that mix Hebrew with Arab.
     A beautiful mixture!

The meaning
     Little by little, the basic drawing drew me into the presence of Christ Himself. 
I thought about the Brothers, the gift of their life, their awestruck search for God and their presence living in the middle of men of a different faith.  How can we contemplate their search for God, unless we understand this as a revelation that God offers about Himself? 
Here is why, in the center of the icon, there is the "Shemà, Israel," which expresses the choice of a people for God and affirms an alliance that reaches the culmination of this embrace through Christ. In the center of this Word that God addresses to Israel there is the Crucified of Tibhirine, as the Verb.
     Around Christ, we see seven martyrs: they are new people, the incarnate Church present in their community. 
     It is relevant that these seven witnesses are dressed in is Christ on the Cross!  At their moment of death, the men were not spoken of as martyrs.  Also they have no halos, and for a crucifix they have only a small red cross. 
     Behind their faces, only one evenly gilded color blends in the background. They speak to everyone, although their testimony is the one of common holiness, lived as the Church, rather than one of personal holiness.  This is the reason why the words  "Our Lady of the Atlas" and "Thibirine" are inscribed in a colored mandala edged in black that comprises the bottom of the picture (the octagon symbolizes that this communal way has led to perfection). 
     At the four corners of the picture, different symbolic representations appear in each circle. 
The name of God is placed in the circle alone and is complete.  It seems to me that one of the more important gifts of Islam is this direction towards the absolute transcendance of God. 
But for Catholics, the Name of God is inseparable from the sacrificed Lamb and His redemptive Blood.
By the Alpha and the Oméga we see that in Him all is accomplished. This is through the Christ who unfolds Himself and the revelation that recurs throughout human history (even if that we do not understand how!) as well as within different religions. 
And finally, Esmeraldas monastery!  First of all, this signifies our community. However, this image also keeps us down to earth. This grounding allows us to welcome and to become open to God's mystery, which endlessly embodies itself in creation.  The letter Epsilon (the initial for Esmeraldas) also represents a stylized dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit that supports and directs the way of the Church and of all creatures towards true life. 
     These four symbols are joined by a series of sentences. These record the inheritance of our Brothers who were a living interpretation of the Mystery. 
     The most obvious one, in white, links up and surrounds all (this lettering imitates Arabic calligraphy). These are Dom Christian's words: 
"In the last instance, the Baptism of Hope, here, is Death." 

      The others are smaller, in blue and orange, placed above and under the principal inscriptions. 
Brother Michael: 
"It seems to me that the One who helps us today to resist is the One who called us.  This leaves me filled with deep wonder." 
Brother Luke:
"We cannot exist as men if we do not accept ourselves as the completed picture of love as it was revealed in Christ."
Father Christopher:
"Jesus, attract me in your joy of love crucified." 
Father Bruno:
"It is only by Your grace that I am here completely, with all my spirit, all my heart, all my will." 
Brother Paul:
"He is available so that He can act in us by means of prayer and the loving presence among all our Brothers." 
Father Celestine:
"Oh, Jesus, I accept with all my heart that Your death accomplishes itself in me."

Here is a final message, again from Dom Christian: 
"There is a presence of God in the middle of the men that brings us back to serve Him."

Last of all, there is the decoration on the exterior frame of the icon. 
The border is composed of small palms or of flowers, with representations of lambs between them, so we do not  forget that the agony of our Brothers is situated among the greater agony of Algeria and of all the martyrs of our time.
Sr Marta Luisa, July 2006

English Translation by Br. Michael Anthony, Erem.M.I., D.D., Ph.D., D.B.A. and Dr. Murphy for the OCSO Generalate.


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