Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 07/Part 03

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Persecutions Suffered by the Consul at Algiers

With good reason Monsieur Vincent prepared his confreres for sufferings and exhorted them to constancy. Living as they did among these barbarians and working for Jesus Christ they were sure to suffer persecution and feel the effects of their rage and cruelty. In fact they were threatened with fire and the rope, and other tortures. They felt that the attacks, of which we give here only one example, show that those who strive to serve Jesus Christ among the infidels are continually exposed to harassments and bad treatment, and will have to have a most ardent charity to support them in their efforts to evangelize.

Monsieur Barreau, the consul in Algiers, felt the cruelty of these barbarians, since he had been tyrannized and persecuted because he had refused to give them money. One of their practices is that when they have suffered a financial loss they look for some way to make it up, always from the most innocent, and particularly from Christians. They use forgeries and false witnesses, and employ violence and injustice beyond all reason. They call this procedure the "affront," and should someone seek justice or the protection of the more powerful, it must be bought by expensive presents, equal almost to what was demanded in the first place. The ones who act this way do not work themselves, but live on what they extort from others, especially from Christians. They are never satisfied with what they have, for many of them are rich enough, but they always seek to have more.

The consul was imprisoned in 1647, solely because he refused to pay the money unjustly demanded of him. Shortly afterward, Monsieur Nouelly, priest of the Congregation of the Mission fell victim to the plague. The consul decided to pay his ransom to be able to help the priest in his illness. The priest died, however, leaving the consul in danger of being returned to prison. He alerted Monsieur Vincent to these two situations, and he replied in a letter, as follows:

I received yesterday the sad but happy news of the passing of Monsieur Nouelly. I shed many tears of regret, but also of thanksgiving for the goodness of God toward our Company for giving us one who loved our Lord so completely and who died such a holy death. How happy you must be that God has chosen you, in preference to so many other persons, for your saintly role. You have become a prisoner of charity, or to say it better, of Jesus Christ. What happiness to suffer for this great monarch, and what a crown awaits you if you persevere until the end. [1]

In 1650 this same Monsieur Barreau was again imprisoned. This led to the following letter and many other similar ones, which show how Monsieur Vincent looked upon all things in the light of our Lord. He expressed his happiness at seeing how others strove and suffered in imitation of the Lord, for the glory of God and the service of the poor.

I learned with great sorrow the sad state in which you find yourself, and the entire Company shares my sorrow. I am sure this is a source of great merit in the sight of God, since you suffer innocently. I was consoled beyond measure to see with what sentiments you have received this new trial, and the good use you are making of your imprisonment. I thank God, with my heart full of gratitude.

Our Lord came from heaven to earth for the redemption of men, and was imprisoned for them. What happiness for you, Monsieur, to be treated in the same way! You left France, a place of joy and rest, to go help and console the poor slaves of Algiers. And now it has come to pass that you have become like one of them, with some differences, to be sure. The more our conduct reflects what Jesus Christ did in this life, and the more our sufferings resemble his, the more pleasing we are to God. Just as your imprisonment honors heaven, I pray that he will reward your patience, too.

I assure you that your letter has touched me deeply, and I shall use it to inspire the entire community. I have already told them of the persecution you suffer, and the resignation you display, to urge them to pray to God for your quick release from prison, and to thank his divine goodness for the grace of your indomitable spirit.

Continue, Monsieur, to preserve your holy submission to the good pleasure of God. In this way you will see accomplished in yourself the promise of our Lord that not a hair of your head will be lost, and that by your patience you will possess your soul. Have great confidence in him, and remember what he endured for you in his life and in his death. He said that the servant is not greater than his master, and that if they have persecuted him they will also persecute you. Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice's sake, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Rejoice then, Monsieur, in him who will be glorified in you, and who shall be your strength, in the degree to which you shall be faithful. This is what I pray for so earnestly.

I beseech you, by the love you have for our Company, to ask of God for us the grace of bearing the cross in all things, great and small, so that we might become worthy children of the cross of his Son, who displayed such love for us on it, and by which we hope to gain eternal happiness. Amen. [2]

Another letter from this father of missionaries, dated January 15, 1651, predicted the early release of the consul.

Your last letter of the month of October has given us much joy and consolation. It tells us of your unfailing patience, and your acceptance of your present sufferings and of all that God will be pleased to allow in the future. We have already thanked him for giving you such a great grace, and we shall continue to pray fervently for your deliverance. The king has been away from Paris for six or seven months, and since his return we have taken steps to obtain his help.

It was finally decided that he would write to Constantinople to complain of your imprisonment. He will insist that the articles of peace and alliance signed by Henry IV with the sultan in 1604, be observed. This treaty called for the end of raids upon French shipping, and for the release of the slaves. Should this not be done, the king will then threaten reprisals. We will follow this initiative, God willing. It is up to Providence to do the rest, but I hope all will go well if we abandon ourselves to him with confidence and submission, which you do so well, by the help of his grace. Perhaps God will be so good to us as to deliver you from prison quicker than through our contacting Constantinople. Maybe the pasha will relent, or some other change will come about that will produce this happy outcome. [3]

It seems that God gave Monsieur Vincent a presentiment of what was going to happen, by what he referred to in the last sentence of his letter, for the pasha, Murad, learned he was to be succeeded by another named Mohammed. He preferred to tell the consul that he could buy his way out of prison, rather than wait to allow his successor to gain the revenue. At the end of seven months he accepted 350 piastres, which was much less than he had first demanded.

The letter Monsieur Vincent wrote to him after his release from prison allows us to gauge his sentiments on the question of suffering and persecution.

God alone, who knows the depths of the heart, can make you aware of the joy we felt at the long-awaited news of your deliverance. We have thanked him for this, and for all the other good we have received from his bounty for such a long time. I gave the news to your father, who was greatly consoled. I told him, too, of the good use you had made of your days of captivity. I never think of this without remembering your meekness, your submission to God, and your patience in suffering, as most beautiful and admirable. I cannot tell you, Monsieur, how fortunate you are to have suffered for our Lord Jesus Christ, who called us to Algiers. In fifteen or twenty years you will understand better the value of what you have contributed, and you will understand even more when God shall call you to your reward in heaven. You have reason to appreciate the time you so religiously spent in prison. As for myself, I look upon it as an infallible sign that God wishes to lead you to himself, since he has allowed you to walk in the footsteps of his only Son. May he be forever blessed, and lead you further in the school of solid virtue to which sufferings contribute so much, without which even good servants of God have reason to fear.

I beg his divine bounty, in the lull you now enjoy, to flood your soul with peace. The storm did not overwhelm you, and I now pray that the calm may endure for as long as it allows you to fulfill perfectly God's designs upon you. In borrowing the one thousand livres you did nothing that I would disapprove of. I regard this sum as insignificant when compared with the value of your liberty, which is more precious to me than anything else. [4]

The saddest and cruelest of all the persecutions suffered by Monsieur Barreau happened in 1657, when a merchant of Marseilles went into bankruptcy in Algiers. His creditors complained to the pasha, who contrary to all reason and justice, obliged the consul to pay the debts of the merchant. He refused to do so, saying that he had no responsibility to do so, and that, even if he wanted to, he did not have the means to pay. This inhuman and barbarous tyrant, in violation of the rights of the innocent, decided to try to force his compliance by torments and curses. He forced him to lie on the ground. Then, in keeping with the cruel custom of the country, he had him beaten on the soles of his feet so violently that he fell unconscious. When the pasha saw this he feared the consul would die, so he ordered a stop to the beating. His avarice and barbarity were so great that he threatened him with another torture, placing long needles under his finger nails. The consul, half dead, believing he had the obligation of preserving his life for the service of the poor Christian slaves, finally agreed to pay the full sum demanded of him.

Monsieur Vincent wrote to him after he learned of this latest suffering:

God's holy name be blessed. He has found you worthy of suffering, and suffering for justice, since, thanks be to God, you had never given any cause for this evil treatment. It is a sign that our Lord wishes to give you a larger share in his passion, since he puts on you the burden of the faults of others. I have no doubt, Monsieur, that in this incident you see the paternal hand of God, wishing to submit to his honor and good pleasure, rather than to the evil will of men, who know not what they do. Thus I hope that this trial will serve to your sanctification. Nothing like this has yet happened to any one of the Company. My hope is that it will attract new graces for the salvation of the neighbor. [5]

The consul had committed himself to pay twelve thousand livres to the pasha, but was confined to his house recovering from his torments when four soldiers of the ruler came with the demand for either immediate payment or death. If he did not pay, he was to be brought, directly from his bed, to the presence of the pasha, where he would be killed. This poor man had merely a hundred ecus, much less that what he was being asked to deliver. Not knowing what to do or what to say, he abandoned himself into the hands of God for whatever would be his will, even death itself.

The poor Christian slaves learned of the violence done him, and of the extreme danger that the consul was in of being put to death. They were so moved at it that they did what little was in their power, and brought twenty, thirty, a hundred, or two hundred ecus, to help him pay this unjust ransom, and thus save his life. They had saved these small sums to help them regain their own liberty, should the occasion present itself, but nevertheless, in thanksgiving and in charity they gave freely to help him who had done so much to aid them regain their liberty.

It seemed that God, having seen the affection of these poor slaves in this instance, had revived in them the spirit of the first Christians. They had brought their goods with such devotion to the feet of the apostles to feed and help the poor. They collected so much that the consul was set free. When Monsieur Vincent heard of this, and realized that the money they had offered so willingly had been saved for their own ransom, he sought alms and gifts from friends to send back to Algiers to be given to the slaves, who themselves were ransomed later.

God blessed the charity of those who had preferred the deliverance of the consul to their own liberty. They later returned happily to France in 1661, accompanied by Monsieur Barreau, because at the request of the successor to Monsieur Vincent as superior general of the Congregation, the king had sent a replacement as consul to Algiers. Monsieur Barreau brought back seventy slaves with him, who had been ransomed by alms collected by Monsieur le Vacher and himself for this purpose.


  1. CED III:240.
  2. CED IV:81-82.
  3. CED IV:140-41.
  4. CED IV:224-25.
  5. CED VI:322.

This page:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Seven, Part Three
Persecutions Suffered by the Consul at Algiers

Index of this section:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Seven Index:
The More Remarkable Events in the Missions of the Barbary States

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Index: The Missions of Monsieur Vincent

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two