I hope that you received my two letters from Naples, in the last of which I explained to you the reasons that led me to go to Palermo. I reached Naples with ample time to be able to leave for Egypt promptly from there. But acquiring full knowledge of the difficulties, or rather of the impossibility of shipping young Africans through Egypt without high-level and powerful recommendations, I resolved to wait for the chance arrival of steamships for Egypt and in the meantime to provide myself with the highest recommendations, to ensure the successful outcome of our project.
The two Consulates in Egypt which hinder the passage of Africans more than the others are the English and the Sardinian. I therefore thought to obtain the widest recommendations for both these impious tribunals of inquisition; and, after going to Palermo (where the Court of His Sardinian Majesty was in residence) and to Rome (where the English Ambassador is a good Catholic) I managed to obtain a recommendation for the Sardinian Consul in Egypt by order of the king; and two additional letters for the English Consul in Egypt, one from the English Ambassador in Rome, and the other from Lord Pope-Hennessy, an important English dignitary who, as he was about to return to England, gave me an address where I could turn if necessary, to obtain even higher protection.
Count Fabrizi, minister of Victor Emmanuel from whom as a Sardinian subject I implored the protection of my Sardinian Consul in Egypt, advised me to present myself to the king in person, assuring me that Victor Emmanuel, as a benefactor of the Missions, in addition to his recommendations, would have assisted me with substantial donations, but I most courteously refused.
As a Sardinian subject there is no harm in asking for protection as was done by the Mission of Central Africa which asked and obtained protection for Aswan from such an enemy of the Faith as the Pasha of Egypt. But it is quite another matter to become involved with a king who is persecuting the Church for money. If I had accepted money from Victor Emmanuel I would certainly have jeopardised myself, the Institute and the Mission, for reading in the Austrian papers that a Missionary of the Mazza Institute received a sum from a king who is an enemy of the Church and of the Austrian Government would have affected politico-religious opinion, not only of myself but also of the Institute. Thus the eyes of Propaganda, the Austrian Government and the Society of Mary in Vienna would have been on us and I would have seriously compromised the Institute and the successful outcome of the Mission. As a result, I refused any conversation with the king, counting on a valid recommendation which it was not at all embarrassing for me to beg and obtain, and hoping that just as I left Verona without Victor Emmanuel’s help, I would return with the young Africans without his assistance.
However, before I avail myself of either Sardinian or English
recommendations, I will keep my eyes wide open in Egypt and in secret thoroughly investigate if it is timely to do so. Mgr Nardi, a true friend to our Mission and our Institute, was a considerable help in obtaining the recommendations for me. Likewise for my journey to Rome he was moved by a spirit of economy, since the French Ambassador in Naples refused me a free passage on the French steamers without express instructions from Propaganda.
Consequently I turned to Cardinal Barnabò, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide, and he deigned to give me 3 letters, in one of which he declares that I am an Apostolic Missionary. In the other two he addresses the French and Austrian Embassies and declaring me an Apostolic Missionary, requests a free passage for me on the French steamers for the journey out as far as Alexandria, and on Lloyd Austriaco for the return journey from Alexandria to Trieste. I am happy about this because while waiting for the next steamers to Egypt I have benefited by obtaining valid recommendations for the happy outcome of our undertaking and saved more than a hundred thalers by providing myself with the letters from Propaganda.
Today I was admitted to the audience of His Holiness Pius IX. It was very short. In my opinion the Pope has aged enormously. I asked him for his blessing for you, Fr Superior, for the male and female Institutes, for Africa, for my father and for me: “Yes, my son” he said with a generous heart that embraces the universe, I give my blessing to you all, to all. I left very glad to have seen the Vicar of Jesus Christ. He seems to me to be a more than human person. All is quiet in Rome. In Naples there is great chaos. The clergy and many of the people sympathise with the Bourbon King. It is quite the opposite in Sicily. Here in Rome both the Pope and the Pontifical Government are well loved.
In travelling from Naples to Rome, I felt the same impressions that someone travelling from Babylon to Jerusalem would feel. Fr Luciano from Lonigo, who was with me all the time, feels the same.
Fr Olivieri’s work, as the Superior of the Institute of Africans in Naples told me, has ground to a complete halt. The Egyptian consular police are all eyes to see whether Africans are slipping through so I must avoid the slightest appearance of any communication with him. I did my best to examine the progress of the College in Naples and I see it has made eminent progress in piety and in moral conduct and to some extent in education. There are some who are studying philosophy there.
Fr Lodovico conceived of a plan substantially similar to yours. It can be seen that the Lord is causing attention to be focused on Africa. He has an array of arts and crafts in his Institute. There are grocers and the workshops of carpenters, blacksmiths, ironmongers, etc. and cobblers, tailors, experts and teachers in each one of these crafts. There is a large garden where agriculture is practised. All in all, it seems to me that it has made a good beginning. He now has 6 lay people to send to Africa. He has founded other Institutes, that is, one for African girls to be educated and then sent back to Africa, one for Missionaries in Italy, one for teaching the poor, another for the handicapped, another for the Reform movement, like that of the Blessed Leonardo in Porto Maurizio; all at his own expense, which he covers by requesting donations as you do, Fr Superior. He was adored by King Francis II, and is also respected by the Sardinian Government, which sent Fr Lodovico to Rome to summon the Cardinal Archbishop back to his See in Naples.
Both Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel have shown great sympathy for the works of Fr Ludovico and especially for the College for Africans. But Fr Lodovico deplores the fate of Francis II, and prays fervently to the Lord that he return to his throne in Naples, because the young king, he tells me, was a true father of the Africans.
Here in Rome I set about acquiring books so as to learn the Abyssinian tongue which could easily be needed in our African Institute. But I found very little in Propaganda. Now a grammar is being printed and as soon as it is ready the Cardinal promises he will send it to me in Verona. In the Orient I will contrive to have everything that comes to me written in the Abyssinian language.
Since for the reasons explained above I was unable to take the last steamer to Egypt, I sent a letter to the Prefect Apostolic in Aden recommending the young Africans to him. Since hell can raise so many obstacles against the holy undertaking in our hands, what I would like is that you, Fr Superior, would order a Hail Mary and a Glory be to be said ad hoc to Mary, Virgin Immaculate or to St Francis Xavier by both the male and female Institutes. But, Fr Superior, do what pleases you.
Tomorrow I leave from Rome for Malta and Alexandria. If the winter storms are not excessively violent, I hope to arrive there on 27th of this month. In the meantime please pray to the Lord and to Mary that they watch over me so that I do not blunder. Then you will tell me in technical terms and clearly, of every fault or error I have made; and your orders and advice will regulate my activities. Receive the Pope’s blessing, Cardinal Barnabò’s greetings and those of Mgr Nardi, Fr Pagani, the General of the Institute of Charity and Fr Luigi Pueker; as well as the most humble and cordial sentiments of respect and love
from your unworthy and most affectionate son,
Fr Daniel Comboni
N.B. I beg you to offer my humble respects to Fr Pietro Albertini, Bishop Canossa, Fr Cesare, the teachers, the priests, and the Africans. Tell Maestra Lucrezia that I made a fervent Memento for her St Gaetano, on the day that I celebrated Mass on his tomb in Naples.
N.B. I have just had another conversation with Mgr Nardi, who tells me that the above-mentioned Lord Pope-Hennessy is a member of the English Parliament in London. He charges me to convey his respectful greetings to you. The recommendation was drawn up by Russell. Returning home just now, I found an English letter from Lord Pope-Hennessy himself who kindly writes to me suggesting that should some difficulty arise in Egypt, I should telegraph him personally in the House of Commons in London. He will do everything I desire for the work to which I am dedicated, calling on the ministers of Parliament and Queen Victoria. His Eminence Cardinal Barnabò advised me to bring the Africans from Egypt to Europe two at a time.
Another important person in Rome, an acquaintance of mine who lived in the Orient for 20 years as Superior of St Joseph’s Institute in Jerusalem, is aware of the subterfuges of the English in the Orient and advised me to take them to Europe by the route through the Suez Desert and Constantinople. I planned to come by the Cape of Good Hope should I meet with difficulties in Egypt. But I hope I shall be able to avoid these ruses since I can rely on the recommendations of Lord Russell and Pope. Pray to the Lord; I shall take all the necessary precautions. I believe I am aware of all that is at stake in this important matter, so everything will go well. As I implore your blessing, I profess myself to be
Your Fr Daniel
I am leaving Rome immediately.