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They Chose to Stay

In the film Of Gods and Men, director Xavier Beauvois tells the story of a small group of mostly French monks living in Algeria during a time of civil unrest. These monks live a life of quiet fidelity dedicated to prayer and work in the rural part of the country near a small village. As part of their work, the monks run a small health clinic and also provide necessary physical supplies like clothing and shoes to the people in the village.

Early in the film, word reaches the monks that a group of Muslim radicals is on the move and will soon be in the town adjacent to the monastery. The monks will be in danger as soon as the radicals take the town. However, they are given a choice. Because the radicals have not yet arrived, there is time for the monks to leave the monastery and move to a more secure place.

In a pivotal scene, the monks speak with the members of the village, most of whom are Muslim, about the decision. One monk says that they are all like birds on the branch of a tree, uncertain whether or not to fly away or stay. A woman from the village corrects him. “You are the tree. We are the birds. If you leave, we will lose our footing.”

The monks make the brave decision to stay. The monks were later kidnapped and beheaded; their bodies were never found.

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