Tag Archives: Cardinal Lavigerie

25 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 4.

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We know about the lives of some liberated slaves. Lavigerie had opened orphanages for ransomed children in Algeria, and a college in Malta to train ‘medical catechists’ to work alongside the missionaries. From there Adrien Atimen became a medical missionary in Congo from 1889 to his death in 1956, often working in very difficult circumstances, refusing to accept the salary to which he would have been entitled, but recognised by popes and civil governments for his selfless devotion.

Another, Bakhita, was taken to Italy after being sold to the Italian consul in Sudan. In Genoa she was given to the Michieli family who planned to take her back to their hotel in Sudan, as their children’s nanny. In 1889 it took a court case for Bakhita to prove her right to refuse to return to where she had been cruelly treated by her previous owners.

With her right to make her own free choices established, Bakhita sought baptism as Josephine Margaret Fortunata (her Arabic name Bakhita means Fortunate), and entered the convent of the Canossian Sisters, and lived happily in community until her death in 1947. She was greatly respected by the local people near her convent in Schio in Northern Italy, who considered her a saint, a judgment recognised by the Church Universal in 2000.

We hardly need such demonstrations that no people are inferior; all of us are sisters and brothers in God’s family. Yet despite all the dedicated hard work since 1888, slavery continues in other forms. Human trafficking brings people to the shores of the Mediterranean or the Channel. Many girls and women especially find themselves condemned to be used as underpaid domestic servants or in the sex industry, a crime that the Church is tackling through the dedicated work of religious sisters and their collaborators in the police and civil society.

It is sobering to read Cardinal Lavigerie’s 1888 prayer to Our Lady and realise that we can recite it with just as much urgency today:

Mary Queen of Africa at Bobo diolasso from MAfr W Africa

Mary Queen of Africa at Bobo diolasso from MAfr W Africa

Mary, we proclaimed you Queen of Africa here twenty-five years ago and Africa relies on your protection. What have you done for Africa? Again, how can you still bear such horrors to continue? Are you to be just a Queen of corpses? Are you a mother just to forget her children? There must be an end to this!’

MMB

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24 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 3.

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It had taken three hundred years of campaigning to undo the Atlantic slave trade, often in the face of determined opposition from powerful men, but now the missionaries had made Pope Leo XII aware of the continuing situation in Africa. He wrote:

It is indeed manifest, by their testimony and word, that each year 400,000 Africans are usually thus sold like cattle, about half of whom, wearied out by the roughness of the tracks, fall down and perish there, so that, sad to relate, those travelling through such places see the pathway strewn with the remains of bones.

This horrific picture was conveyed to Leo by Cardinal Lavigerie, who now called for support from European governments, as he travelled to speak in their major cities. In London he related the methods used by the Tuaregs in the Western Sahara:

“Their hearts are as hard as the iron of their lances, and a handful of raw sorghum each evening, with a drop of water, are all that they give to the Slaves who travel, carrying the horrible Slave yoke. If anyone falls it is instant death – the experienced eye of the merchant can judge whether his victim is likely to escape from him by death before the end of the journey. If he feels sure of this, he finishes him off with one blow of his club – the hyenas and the jackals will come and devour their flesh, leaving blanched skeletons to mark the road to the markets of Morocco or Fez.”

A situation that is paralleled today, as thousands try to cross desert and sea to reach the gold-plated streets of Europe.

MMB

A cross made from a wrecked migrant boat on Lampedusa, Italy.

 

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23 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 2.

Pope Leo XIII

Fr Lourdel became influential at the royal court of Buganda, the main kingdom of what would shortly become the British protectorate of Uganda. He and the other missionaries, including the Protestant Alexander Mackay, would successfully lobby King Mwanga to have the abolition of slavery and freedom of religion enshrined in the treaty he signed with Great Britain in 1890.

Slavery was not a matter of abstract theology. Pope and cardinal were well aware of the real flesh and blood suffering and determined to bring it to an end. Lavigerie therefore left his diocese of Algiers and travelled through Europe, stirring up support for justice towards the victims of violence and abuse.

Instead of returning to Africa, I am going to Paris, not to ask for funds, but rather to finally tell what I know about the crimes without name which are destroying the interior of our Africa, and then to let out a great cry, one of those cries which shakes up to the bottom of the soul, of all that is still worthy the name of man and Christian in the world. What I have to do is nothing other than bringing into the light what Leo XIII has just written about African slavery.”

In his encyclical In Plurimis of 1888, Pope Leo welcomed the abolition of slavery in Brazil. He reiterated how Jesus had come to set the captives free, and how the popes, from Saint Gregory the Great onwards had urged the breaking of the chains of slavery to restore all men and women to the dignity God intended. Leo made clear that, ‘The system [of slavery] is one which is wholly opposed to that which was originally ordained by God and by nature.’ He rejected outright the theory that some people were born inferior and so could be legally and morally enslaved.

This excuse had been used down the centuries from pre-Christian times to the conquistadores in Latin America; it was how the Portuguese had justified slavery in Brazil and the Spanish in the rest of the continent, and its poison can still be felt in racist attitudes today. Pope Leo made clear that from Saint Paul onwards the Church had striven to put an end to slavery. However, human greed, as well as war had caused it to linger in Christian as well as Muslim lands until the 19th century when the successors of Columbus were still avariciously abusing Africans as well as Indians in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

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22 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 1.

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From the 1860s onwards, as missionaries arrived in the interior of Africa south of the Sahara, it became clear that the work of William Wilberforce and the abolitionists earlier in the 19th century was far from complete. Although the slave trade across the Atlantic had been ended in 1807, and slavery itself abolished in the British Empire in 1833, the missionaries found that people were still being kidnapped and sold to Arab slavers across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. The European powers, while busily carving up Africa between them, had agreed in Berlin in 1885 to work for the suppression of slavery in Africa. It was time to take them at their word.

Saint Daniel Comboni, founder of the Verona Fathers had died in 1881. His life’s work had been in Sudan, where an ancient slave trade was still being savagely practised by the Arab colonisers. He saw that ‘In Central Africa, slavery remains as flourishing as ever, but the cries of the victims are never heard far away in Europe. The desolation continues and will continue for a long time.’ It was reports like his, as well as those sent to Cardinal Lavigerie by pioneer Missionaries of Africa like Fr Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans, that made sure their cries were heard, and inspired Pope Leo XIII and Lavigerie to initiate a new campaign.

Despite the many difficulties they faced in establishing their mission in Uganda, Lourdel and Amans immediately set about ransoming slaves and providing safe houses for them. Lavigerie had alread been doing the same thing further north. Buying slaves would never be a long-term solution though, since the slaver had his profit without the trouble of transporting his captives to the coast, and could still pick up a few more unfortunates once out of the missionaries’ sight.

Fr Lourdel became influential at the royal court of Buganda, the main kingdom of what would shortly become the British protectorate of Uganda. He and the other missionaries, including the Protestant Alexander Mackay, would successfully lobby King Mwanga to have the abolition of slavery and freedom of religion enshrined in the treaty he signed with Great Britain in 1890.

MMB

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8 February. The Christian Church Against Slavery: Livingstone and Lavigerie

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For the Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the saint saved from slavery, here is a reflection on slavery by a African bishop.

Livingstone proposed that in order to uproot slavery and slave trade from Africa there was need for “3Cs”: ChristianisationCivilisation (education and good governance) and Commerce (legal and ethical). This vision was taken up by Lavigerie who … in some of his Instructions to the Missionaries sent to Equatorial Africa,  made reference to the writings of Livingstone on slave trade.

In his Anti-Slavery conferences in Paris, London and Brussels, Lavigerie quoted Livingstone on the atrocities and gravity of slave trade in Black Africa. And, while in London, before his conference at Prince’s Hall on 31st July 1888, Lavigerie made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Livingstone in the Abbey of Westminster.


At the head of those who declared this new war was the intrepid, the noble Livingstone. As an old African myself, I wanted to visit the tomb of the great explorer, under the vaults of Westminster. You have buried him in the midst of your greatest men. You were right, for Livingstone, by his courage, by his high intelligence, by the abnegation of his life, is the glory of this century and of your country. But if you are the heirs of his glory, you must be the executors of his last wishes. So, it is with an emotion that brought tears to my eyes that I read the final words he wrote and that England has had officially engraved on his tomb, by order of the Government: “I cannot do anything more,” he wrote in the neglected environment where he was going to die, “than to wish that the most abundant heavenly blessings descend on those, whoever they may be, English, American or Turks, who contribute to making the frightful plague of slavery disappear from the world.

In both Lavigerie and Livingstone, we have two men who loved Africa and the Africans and who, each in his own way, tried his best to fight against the African Slave Trade. Lavigerie’s constant reference to Livingstone inspires us to ecumenical collaboration in the struggle against modern day slavery especially in Africa. The “3Cs” of Livingstone embraced by Lavigerie are still very valid instrument to fight against today’s slaveries.

Taken from a speech by Bishop Richard Baawobr of Wa, Ghana, when Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa in 2013. Follow this link. 

Images in the public domain via Wikipedia.

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September 1, Algeria V: Love them sincerely and profoundly

henri marchal

The Church in Algeria, despite Colonial Governments’ intermittent hostility to it, always refused to be simply a chaplaincy to French settlers who were not secularists. It insisted on respect for the Muslim faith of the vast majority of the population. Cardinal Lavigerie, who as Archbishop of Algiers founded the Missionaries of Africa in 1868, would doff his hat and bow as he passed a mosque, to respect the prayer offered there.

A twentieth century Missionary of Africa, Henri Marchal, developed the policy of the founder towards Muslims. He insisted in 1945, after some forty years in Algeria, that:

“To make use of our superior knowledge, of our extensive culture to overwhelm the masses, to show them the falseness of their beliefs and the truth of our own, to shake their convictions by sowing doubt in their mind… would be to use practices which Muslims would immediately seize upon as having an ulterior goal and motive which they would not easily forgive, since they would see in it an attack on their religion, a dishonest undertaking to undermine their convictions in order to snatch them from the good that they prize above all else, their Muslim faith, their dignity and privilege of being believers, their unbreakable cohesion in Islam.

“To have an influence on the population, it is necessary to love these people, to love them sincerely and profoundly, and to love in this manner we need to recall in the presence of each one, in our way of approaching him and dealing with him, that Jesus shed his blood for him. We have to win their hearts by our witness of goodness which is always one of welcome.

“The Church, in directing souls to God and leading them on the road to salvation, does not turn their exterior lives inside out but rather transforms their interior lives. That is why the ‘return to God’ of a whole people will in no way mean its denial or the abandonment of its own civilisation and the adoption of a civilisation or culturewhich is alien to it.”

  • May Church and Society in Britain be welcoming to all migrants who come here.
  • See: Gérard Demeerseman, M.Afr: Henri Marchal 1875-1957: ‘An Apostolic Approach to the Algerian World’, pp61-62, 74. On-line text PDF

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