Published: 20 October 2013
In coastal eastern Algeria, Annaba is the modern-day city that overlooks the archaeological ruins of the town of Hippo in the valley below, where once stood the Basilica of Peace that was used by Augustine 1,600 years ago. Annaba’s Basilica of St Augustine was built in 1881. In recent years it has has needed renovation, which could only be done with government approval and assistance.
Over the past six years, the Augustinian community in Annaba, Algeria, has been accompanying the long and challenging project of the restoration of the Basilica of St Augustine. The first three years were dedicated to the complete development of the architectural plans as well as the necessary fund-raising, and during the past three years, the actual work has gone on, restoring virtually every part of the church, from the roof, to the stained glass windows to the walls inside and out.
And then on 19th October 2013, with the official sponsorship of the President of the Republic of Algeria, Mr Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the nation and the Church celebrated together the inauguration of the fully restored Basilica of Saint Augustine.
The master of ceremonies for the event was the prior of the Augustinian community in Annaba, Fr Ambroise Tshibangu O.S.A., of the Vicariate of the Congo. Various people spoke, representing the architectural and construction companies that directed the work, as well as the representatives of some of the financial sponsors for the project. The local Bishop of Constantine-Hippo also addressed the hundreds of people that took part in the event, expressing the gratitude of the diocese for the support received, as well as the importance of the Basilica as a sign of peace and harmony among peoples of different cultures and religions.
Among the people in attendance at the ceremony, which was covered extensively by television and newspapers throughout the country, were the President of the Council of Ministers of Algeria, political leaders from Annaba and other parts of the country, numerous bishops from Algeria and France, several Augustinians who travelled from Europe, the leaders of various mosques in the area, the ambassadors to Algeria of numerous countries, and a wide representation of the people who regularly take part in the life of the Church at the Basilica.
The significance of the Augustinian presence at Annaba was clearly highlighted throughout the day’s events, which concluded with the celebration of the Eucharist at which Bishop Paul Desfarges S.J., Bishop of Constantine-Hippo presided. Saint Augustine is highly respected and reverenced by the people of Algeria, and the importance of both the person and the place will continue to be seen, as the beauty of the newly restored Basilica gives witness to the Doctor of Grace, promoter of dialogue and peace.
The basilica welcomes 15,000 visitors a year ranging from school children to participants in international conferences. It also contains a rich library. It was not until 1933 that a long-desired plan to have an Augustinian community at Anna finally began, when the Basilica of Saint Augustine at Hippo (Annaba) was entrusted to the Maltese Province of the Order.
Two other parishes were also staffed by the Augustinians in 1951 and 1953 but, with the exodus of Europeans after Algerian independence in 1962, the Maltese drew back to having one community at Annaba. When Augustinian presence at Annaba in 2007 reduced to only one friar, a special invitation that was sent to all regions of the Order of Saint Augustine to seek volunteers for a multi-national Augustinian community in Hippo (Annaba). Several members of the Order have volunteered, and the plan was initiated, and continues to the present day.