The Church in Algeria announced Sunday that the country has ordered the Church’s aid organization Caritas Algeria to cease its operations.
“The Catholic Church in Algeria regrets to announce the complete and definitive closure of its service called ‘Caritas Algeria,’ from 1 October 2022, in conformity with the request of the public authorities,” read a Sept. 25 letter signed by Archbishop Paul Desfarges, archbishop emeritus of Algiers and president of the Diocesan Association of Algeria, and by Archbishop Jean-Paul Vesco of Algiers.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has in recent years recommended that the State Department put Algeria on its “special watch list” for “engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.”
AFP reported that a 2012 law “required all registered nonprofits to submit new documentation.”
Vesco told the French news agency that the public authorities had judged Caritas Algeria “an unauthorized organization.”
In their letter, Desfarges and Vesco wrote that “naturally, the Catholic Church remains faithful to its charitable mission in the service of brotherhood, in partnership with all people of goodwill.”
They quoted from the 2019 document on human fraternity signed by Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, which says, “believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need.”
The bishops concluded their letter: “The Catholic Church would like to thank all those who, over the years and in different ways, have contributed to the realization of this work at the service of the most vulnerable and the Algerian people.”
Agenzia Fides, a news service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, reported that “Caritas was probably the subject of these restrictive measures because it is considered a foreign nongovernmental organization.”
It added that “representatives of the local Catholic community rule out that the measures imposed by the Algerian authorities are fueled by feelings of hostility towards the Catholic Church and its presence in the country. Rather, they see a connection with the general policy of restrictions that have recently been imposed on foreign and multinational NGOs.”
Caritas Algeria was founded in June 1962, days before Algeria gained independence from France.
In June 2021 USCIRF’s chair, Nadine Maenza, commented that “recent decisions by Algerian courts to sentence Christians accused of blasphemy and proselytizing to multiyear prison sentences and to seal Protestant churches that have been forcibly closed demonstrates the country is headed in the wrong direction.”