11 April 2007

Lala Meriem

In 1868, Cardinal Lavigerie, the Bishop of Algiers, formed the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa, also known as the "White Fathers". One year afterwards, the Soeurs Blanches were formed to help the Peres Blancs in their mission. The purpose of the societies is the conversion of Arabs and Africans.

The statue of Notre Dame D'Afrique was installed in the church in 1873, and in 1876, on April 30th, Pope Leo XIII declared the church a basilica and a crown of jewels (a gift of Pope Pius IX) was placed on Our Lady's head.

Thus April 30th remains the Feast of Our Lady of Africa, protectress of Muslims and Negroes, and her statue is venerated by Catholics and Mohammedans alike, who call her Lala Meriem. In fact, it is common on any given day to see Muslims kneeling in the basilica laying their petitions before the Blessed Virgin.

The Basilica itself was built by Fromageau in Byzantine style. It sits on a cliff overlooking the Bay of Algiers.

Inscribed on the apse behind Our Lady of Africa is the petition, Notre Dame d'Afrique priez pour nous et pour les Musulmans.

Algiers Street Scene, 1894