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