Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 07/Part 08

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The power of virtue to move even enemies to admiration and love is so great that the charity which the missionaries extended to the poor slaves attracted the attention, esteem and veneration of even many Moslems. This gave the missionaries the liberty to go into the houses where the slaves lived, or into the places where they worked. Since at first there was considerable opposition, one of the missionaries used an artifice suggested by his charity. When there was sick slave in a place closed to him, he would first send a Christian pharmacist to visit. This man would report to the master that he could no nothing until the doctor had visited. The priest would assume the guise of a doctor. In this disguise he would visit the place where the sick were, to speak with them, hear their confessions, administer the sacraments even in the presence of the masters who would not understand what was going on. They thought that these religious rites were part of the medical art.

The way the blessed sacrament was carried to these poor slaves was for the priest to place it in a small silver gilt box, which in turn was put in a silk purse hung about the neck. A small stole was sewn into the cassock, and then covered and hidden by a cloak. A Christian would walk ahead, carrying under his mantle or hood a lighted candle in a small lantern, a bit of blessed water in a tiny bottle, a folded surplice, a ritual, a tiny corporal and a purificator. The priest and companion would greet no one along the way. This gave a signal by which the Christians would understand what they were doing. If they were free they would follow the priest, as their devotion suggested. In the city of Algiers, it is true, the Christian slaves would not follow the priest carrying the blessed sacrament, for fear of the unhappy consequences that might follow. A single priest in a penal colony of Algiers once gave communion to sixty sick slaves, after he heard their confessions, and a similar thing happened on several other occasions.

Another concern of the missionaries was to preserve among the poor slaves a spirit of peace and union, a true mark and distinguishing mark of Christianity. To our shame we have to admit that the Moslems sometimes taught us a lesson in this. Monsieur Guerin wrote in a letter to Monsieur Vincent:

I must not hesitate to tell you what a Moslem told me recently, of his impressions of some badly disposed Christians. I was attempting to reconcile two Christians who were at odds. As this Moslem saw that I was having difficulty persuading them, he spoke to me in his own language, "Father, among us Moslems, we are not allowed to remain angry with one another longer than three days, even though the other might have killed one of our close relatives." I have seen this often enough among them. After fighting one another they would quickly come to terms, embracing each other in friendship.

I cannot say if this reconciliation is purely exterior or not, but for Christians there is no doubt these infidels will hate them until the day of judgment, resisting any reconciliation, either exterior or interior. They retain this hatred in their hearts, boasting of it, and they glory in the vengeance they have taken or wish to take on their enemies. Nevertheless, these people we call barbarians look upon it as a great shame if they hold hatred in their hearts against any of their own, or if they refuse to be reconciled with anyone who had done them evil. [1]

Besides what has already been said, several other extraordinary occasions arose in which it seemed that God wished to pour out his grace more abundantly upon these poor slaves. This was especially noticed at the time of some special jubilee, or at the celebration of the Forty Hours. On these occasions the priests of the Mission did not spare themselves in their service to the captives. Sometimes they would pass the entire night in the penal colonies for confessions, since there was no other time that this could be done. The masters would not allow the slaves to take time from their work during the day.

It happened once that a priest went six or seven nights without sleep. The consul alerted Monsieur Vincent, who gave directives to the priest to moderate his zeal lest he succumb. Another occasion of grace was when the priests of the Mission would urge the captives to make their general confession. Most of them did so, with signs of true repentance. At this special time of grace, the most hardened sinners would recognize their miserable state and turn to God after being away ten, twenty, thirty years or more, from confession. At these times of mercy and pardon many renegades from various nations, French, Italians, or Spaniards, would decide to renounce their apostasy and return to the Church. In order to effect this renunciation, it was necessary to escape to their native land, but this could be done only at great peril to their very lives.

Because of God's blessing and the instruction and exhortation of the priests of the Mission some of these Christian slaves, after their general confession, began to lead a truly Christian life, and to practice extraordinary virtue. They preserved an inviolate fidelity to Jesus Christ amid the most severe persecution, and suffered cruel torments with a marvelous constancy, even to death itself, rather than offend God by sin. Two examples of this may be given. Monsieur Guerin reported the first in a letter to Monsieur Vincent, in August 1646:

I must tell you that on the feast of Saint Anne, a second Joseph was sacrificed in this city of Tunis for the preservation of the virtue of chastity. He resisted the lewd suggestions of his mistress for over a year, but received horrible beatings when this she-wolf falsely accused him. He finally gained his victory by dying for refusing to offend God's law. He was heavily chained for three days. During that time I was able to visit him, to console him, and to exhort him to suffer all possible torments rather than fail in the fidelity he owed to God. He confessed and communicated, and then said to me, "Monsieur, no matter what they do to me, I wish to die as a Christian." When they led him to his execution, I again heard his confession, and I had the consolation of attending his sacrifice, although this is usually never permitted by these barbarians. The last words he spoke, in raising his eyes to heaven, were: "O God, I die innocent." He died courageously, giving no sign of impatience at the cruel sufferings he had to endure. We managed to give him honorable burial.

His wicked and lewd mistress did not long enjoy her crime. When the master of the house came back from a business trip, he strangled her in a fit of rage. This saintly young man was Portuguese by birth, and was twenty-two years old. I invoke his help. As he loved us in life, I hope he will continue to do so in heaven. [2]

The other example happened in the city of Algiers, where a young slave was solicited to commit an unmentionable sin by his master, but refused courageously. In the act of defending himself from the master's anger, he struck him in the face, which enraged his master exceedingly. This slave was then charged in front of a judge of attempting to kill his owner. Instead of the master being punished for his cruelty, as he deserved, the slave was condemned to be burned alive. He suffered this cruel death as a valiant Christian.


  1. CED III:225-26.
  2. CED III:14-15.

This page:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Seven, Part Eight
Continuation of the Same Topic

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