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.”