Brother Jean-Baptiste, Jean-Louis Gourion, was born in 1934 in Algeria of a Jewish family. He kept the wealth of his origin as well as the piercing question regarding the significance of the Shoah… His reading of Simone Weil and then his contact with Rabbi Ashkenazi left him without an answer until the day when he found in the cordial listening of Father Abbot Paul, whom he met during his studies in France, the living answer in Jesus and in his Cross. He was baptized in 1958 at the Bec-Hellouin Abbey.
After his military service and the discovery in Algeria of the horrors that the human being is capable of inflicting on another human being which marked him profoundly, he chose the monastic life and made profession at the Bec-Hellouin Abbey in 1965. He was ordained a priest in 1967 (he became abbot of our abbey in 1999).
From the outset, he was open to the Catholic charismatic renewal, faithful to a process that led him to ever greater human and spiritual openness to the other, even to the point of the impossible, while he always carried within himself the ever present wound of the horror inflicted on his people.
His playful temperament did not always conceal the bitterness of a personal journey in which he gave himself over to others, first in his responsibility as Benedictine abbot, then when he was named a bishop, which rooted him – according to what Father Abbot Paul said – in the fidelity to his Jewish origin, but also confronted him with the institution of the Church in its painful contradictions.
He lived in his flesh and his soul an even more radical tearing apart with the death of the young Brother Alain, whose offering “for Israel” and whose spiritual testament – “Suffering gives no right whatsoever except to love” – took nothing away from the sacrifice that was demanded, like with the death of a son.
Fortunately for him, he found in the friendship of our friends in Bethlehem and with André and Annette Chouraqui the Oriental milieu where his sense of life could expand as well as the joy of animated meetings and his marvel over creation… which remains our community heritage!
Made fruitful by the Gospel, his desire for life made him attentive to all that makes up human and Christian reality, including sexuality, with his concern not to let dry up the savor of the Father’s tenderness revealed in Jesus.
This is his heritage to us, which is an example of his Sephardi Judaism that gives us life today in this Land, where we live as witnesses of hope; this heritage is written at the heart of every human encounter.