The next few entries refer to the French conquest of Algeria in 1830. We need to read these events through the missionary eyes of Eugene nearly two centuries ago and not judge his reactions according to our present theological and political sensibilities, as if the events had taken place in 2017. In 1830 they were at the height of the movement of colonial expansionism, which the Church saw as an opportunity to evangelize those who had never heard of Jesus Christ – and, as a result, for whom the possibility of salvation did not exist (“extra ecclesiam nulla salus”).

For reasons, outside the scope of this reflection, France invaded Algeria in July 1830. Leflon gives the background of the significance of this for Marseilles, where Eugene was Vicar General to his uncle Bishop Fortuné.

“While elsewhere, the liberals were waging a violent campaign against the military action taken by the government on January 31, 1830, those of the great Mediterranean port approved it enthusiastically… For the future, it would mean assuring outlets which would make up for the disappointments met in the Middle East, and for the present, it brought profits from the provisioning and transporting of troops. In fact, it was to this expedition that Marseilles owed a providential increase in business which enabled her to escape a national depression…  This explains the frenzied reception given to the embarking troops.” (Leflon 2 p 331)

Beaudoin shows the reaction of the missionaries who saw this as an opportunity of evangelizing this non-Christian territory:

Father de Mazenod and the Oblates in full accord with popular opinion in France and Marseilles’ opinion in particular reacted favorably to this event. Already on April 27, 1830, Eugene de Mazenod on behalf of his uncle Fortuné had published a pastoral letter in which he decreed “public prayers for the success of the war in Africa.” Among other things, he said:

“We are gratified to see a number of our priests […] requesting the privilege of being the first to bring to them a knowledge of Jesus Christ in order to form a Christianity which they are on fire to make fruitful through their sweat and their blood.”

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    God must be softening me, because I read of Eugene’s reactions to what was happening in France at that time and still I love him. I think if I were to condemn in any measure Eugene and his early Oblates I would have to also condemn many in my life and time who have governed, taught and lived doing things that are no longer so acceptable – to myself. And I would be quite unable to blot out my own sins in that regard for I have done the same thing in my own life – not as grand in scale perhaps but just as devastating to some.

    I think of the early Oblates that came here to Canada. I have been reading some of their history as they served and loved and walked with the Indians. Father Lacombe and Bishop Grandin come to mind (because I have learned more about them and their lives) and I think of how they tried to protect their Indians, how they wanted them to become educated and supported – not to wipe them out but so that they would be able to stand on their own among the wave of European settlers who were coming in ever increasing numbers. How they suffered with those they walked with. I look at how that is now regarded by so some as being so evil.

    This all puts a new spin on how I look upon others through history but also in the here-and-now. I wonder what future generations will think of how we lived in such a way as to be killing our planet even as we talked about ‘Justice, Peace and the Integrity of all of Creation’.

    Like St. Eugene I can be passionate, zealous at times and some of my ways of being would not be considered as being ‘politically correct’. My eye-sight seems to be changing, softening in how I see things. Am I any different? I have found the path that God calls me to walk and I want to share all that God gives me with all those who I meet and love. I want for them to have no less than what I seem to have found. Not an excuse simply the way it is. I suspect that most of us are no different.

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