Dozens of Catholic dignitaries and hundreds of faithful gathered at the Saint Vincent-de-Paul Cathedral in Tunisia Saturday, February 8 for the Episcopal Ordination of the Bishop of Constantine in Algeria, French-born Monsignor Nicolas Lhernould.
Such a ceremony had not taken place for 60 years in Tunisia.
The last episcopal ordination in Tunisia dates back to 1962, six years after independence, and took place in Carthage Cathedral, which has since been desecrated and become a cultural centre.
North Africa was one of the high places of Christianity in the first centuries AD. At present, the small Catholic community in Tunisia is mainly composed of foreigners, who have come from sub-Saharan Africa for their studies or in search of a better life, or from Europe for their work.
The Constitution of 2014 established freedom of conscience and worship in Tunisia, but atheism is frowned upon and conversions remain limited and difficult to accept by the many Tunisians.
The episcopal ordination Mass was attended by some 15 bishops and 60 priests, brought together under high surveillance of hundreds of Christians dressed in their Sunday best, in the cathedral, an emblematic monument on Bourguiba Avenue in the heart of the capital, Tunis.
“We wanted to celebrate in a family way, and it went beyond our expectations,” Bishop Lhernould said at the end of Holy Mass, rejoicing with the impressive presence of clergy representatives from Algeria and Morocco.
“We are together at the service of God’s project: a project with a history, a present, a future, whose keys are in the Heart of God,” the 44-year-old Bishop told members of the congregation who came to witness his historic episcopal ordination.
“I have everything to learn, everything to receive, in continuity and in newness: from God, from the Church, from the Algerian people,” the French-born Prelate added.
With minority Catholic presence in a predominantly Muslim region, Bishop Lhernould intends to let himself “be welcomed, be taught and receiving the message from God and from others, listening with everyone to the Holy Spirit who makes all things new.”
Ordained priest of the diocese of Tunis in May 2004, Bishop Lhernould was appointed bishop of Constantine and Hippo in Algeria, on December 9, 2019 by Pope Francis.
In Constantine, Bishop Lhernould will be succeeding Missionary of Africa Archbishop Paul Desfarges who was transferred to the Archdiocese of Algiers in December 2016.
Bishop Lhernould is expected to be installed in his diocese of Constantine in the Basilica of St. Augustine in Annaba on February 29.