Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 07/Part 02

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The Main Work of the Missionaries in Barbary

Monsieur Vincent first used his influence to have consuls appointed in the two cities, Tunis and Algiers. They were to cooperate with the priests of the Mission in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy serving the Christians there, both slaves and others. It only remained for each to carry out these good intentions.

To understand better the great good that Monsieur Vincent hoped the priests in Barbary would accomplish, we must realize that in these cities not only French citizens whether slave or free lived there under the protection of the king of France, but also citizens of other nations, except the English. They all turned to the French consul for protection and help against the insults of the barbarians. These other nationalities included Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Maltese, Greeks, Germans, Flemish, and Swedes. The boats and crews engaged in trade obtained their passports through him. When the pirates captured a ship and its merchandise, it was up to the consul to try to seek its release. He would complain to the dey or to the pasha, and to the customs officer, of the injustice of these seizures, or of the bad treatment of the sailors. [1] He negotiated the release of the slaves, and as often as he could had them returned to their own country. He attempted to settle the disputes which arose between the merchants of all these nations, and those among the slaves themselves. He attempted to make sure no Christian merchant carried any contraband material banned by the church or the king, to the Moslems. These banned items included sails, rope, iron, lead, and weapons, since they could be used by the Moslems in their wars against the Christians.

The priests of the Mission were as much taken up with their spiritual ministrations as the consuls were in temporal matters. They were apostolic missionaries, under the authority of the sovereign pontiff, who gave them all the faculties and powers they needed for their work. They were vicars of the archdiocese of Carthage, upon which these two cities of Tunis and Algiers depended. With these powers, they had jurisdiction over all enslaved priests and religious, who sometimes were very numerous. They were the pastors of both the merchants and slaves, who together numbered twenty-five or thirty thousand, with more coming in all the time.

These missionary priests worked primarily to maintain the Catholic religion and to practice it publicly and privately in those very places where it was oppressed and persecuted. They did so in imitation of Jesus Christ who had said to the Jews that he honored his Father while it was they who dishonored him. In the same way these sons of Monsieur Vincent sought to honor this same Savior, and have him honored and served in the midst of an infidel land where he was dishonored by the most cruel enemies of his holy name.

Besides, they sought to confirm and strengthen the faithful in their beliefs. They supported the weak, and prevented them from being lost. They brought back those who had strayed. They administered the sacraments to the sick and healthy both in the cities and in the fields. They consoled the poor slaves in their pains and afflictions. They preached, instructed, worked, endured, and finally gave their lives for this poor suffering Church, just as our Lord did for the entire Church at its beginnings. These were the main occupations of the priests and consuls in Barbary to which they completely devoted themselves. They worked closely together, hoping to succeed in the work of the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God, their one shared goal. Monsieur Vincent strongly recommended that they often consult together, sharing advice and other forms of aid. This is what he said in a letter he wrote at this time:

I have learned of the bonds of charity that exist among you. I bless God every time the thought comes to me, so much am I moved to thanksgiving for such a great blessing which surely comes directly from the heart of God. From this union among you will come all sorts of good things for his greater glory and for the salvation of a great number of souls. In the name of God, Monsieur, do all in your power to strengthen these bonds in every way. Recall the words of the epistle to the Romans which remind us that by union and prudence all things will work out well. Yes, union among you will bring the work of God to a happy end, and nothing, except disunion, can stand in its way. This work is an exercise of charity such as is not seen anywhere else in the whole world, although it is not well known.

O God, Monsieur, what vision we need to see the full excellence of apostolic work. How happy we should be to be called to it, and how we should respond to the demands of this ministry. Ten or twelve missionaries with this insight could bring about incredible fruit in the Church. I have heard of the battles which have cost you flesh and blood, but this must happen, for the evil spirit will not let you continue without a fight. Blessed be God that you have stood firm against all attacks. Heaven and earth rejoice at your happy task, to honor in your work the incomprehensible charity of our Lord who descended from heaven to rescue us from our slavery. I imagine that there is not an angel or saint in heaven who does not envy you this happiness, if indeed their glorious state allows them to feel the pangs of envy. Even though I am the most miserable of sinners, I must say that if it were allowed, I too would envy you.

Humble yourself, and prepare to suffer at the hands of the Moslems, or the Jews, or from false brothers. They may do you harm, but do not be surprised. They will not do you any ill other than what our Lord allows. What he sends will be solely to prepare you for some special favors which he has in store for you. You are well aware that the grace of our redemption must be attributed to the merits of the passion. The more the works of God are resisted, the happier are the results, if only our resignation and confidence do not falter. Rarely is any good done without suffering. The devil is too subtle and the world too corrupt not to attempt to stamp out a good work at its very beginning. Courage, then, Monsieur. God himself has called you to the place and the work you are now doing. If you have God's glory as your only end, what is there for you to fear, or better, what should you not hope for? [2]


  1. The dey was the ruling official. He and the pasha were accountable to the sultan in Constantinople, the head of the Ottoman empire.
  2. CED IV, 364-66.

This page:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Seven, Part Two: The Main Work of the Missionaries in Barbary

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