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Fr. Francesco Bricolo
2. 1.1861
ACR, A, c. 14/4

Very Reverend and Beloved Fr Rector!

Alexandria, Egypt, 2 January 1861
I flattered myself that on reaching Alexandria I would find letters from Verona giving me some news of the Institute or of our venerable good old Father, who has a great heart and thinks a great deal but writes very seldom. But my hopes were in vain. Which is why, starved as I am of news from Verona, I want to escape a bit from the laconic style I have kept for you until now in the three letters I wrote you from Naples, Palermo and Rome. I would also like somehow to give you an impression of the circumstances of my journey from Verona to Egypt; I assure you that if in the past I did not write to you at length about everything, it was because I was always very busy, occupied with the most important business that Providence has entrusted to me, and with making a success of it.
You are fully aware of the uncertain and not very fortunate outcome of the expedition we made to Central Africa when we left Verona in 1857, five Missionaries and one lay person. Furthermore, you know of the grim outcome of the various expeditions made by Propaganda and the Society of Mary in Vienna to found a Catholic Mission in the Unknown Regions of Africa in order to make the light of Christ’s Faith shine in those vast kingdoms still buried in the darkness and shadows of death.
From all these results one can clearly see how sublime and wise the great plan conceived by our most beloved and revered Superior has turned out to be. In February 1849 he decreed the creation of an indigenous clergy and that the education of young African boys and girls be established in our schools in Europe, so that these natives, taught in the heart of Catholicism in the spirit of our Holy Faith, instructed in religion and civilisation, might then return to their native countries. There, each according to his or her vocation and profession, they would teach and pass on to their fellow countrymen the goodness and the doctrines, both religious and civil, which they had learned in Europe; thus little by little they would form, from the tribes of Africans, both civilised and Christian nations.
He therefore continued to work according to this sublime and very wise plan, the most appropriate and suitable known so far for the conversion of Africa, conceived according to the Church’s spirit. For this sole purpose She founded in the capital of Christendom the Urban College of Propaganda Fide, which accepts young men chosen from all parts of the world. After they have received their ecclesiastical education they are to return to their own native lands, to implant and promote civilisation and religion. Continuing to work, as I said, according to this great plan, in about the middle of last November, our dearly beloved Superior came to hear through the information of a Malabar Missionary just back from the Indies, that a ship of young African slaves, boys and girls, had been captured off the coast of Abyssinia. It had been ferrying them through the Red Sea along the coast of the Arabian desert. The English took possession of it and transported this troop of Africans to their Indian possessions, delivering some of them to the Catholic Missions in Aden, employing them in the production of coffee and oriental spices.
The English acted in accordance with the treaty of 1856 which was stipulated in Paris. In this treaty, the abolition of slavery and the trade in Africans was proclaimed by the congress of the great powers of Europe which had met for the purpose of resolving matters in the Orient. Their wise, charitable and Christian decision prohibits the infamous trade in human flesh, a vile activity which debases and degrades humanity and reduces to the ignoble condition of brutes human beings endowed, like us, with the light of intelligence – itself a reflection of God and a likeness of the Most August Trinity.
It would be horrifying were I to describe the base and ruthless manner in which the poor Africans are wrenched from the womb of their families and sold in the markets of Kordofan and Nubia: but none of this. I will only explain how the accidental circumstance of an English ship on the Red Sea that captured a boatload of these poor Africans who were then taken to the English possessions, seemed to the great Servant of God, our venerable Superior, a propitious disposition of Providence by which God was offering him a means and a way to bring young African girls and boys to our Verona Institutes, a supremely difficult undertaking since the abolition of slavery. Whereupon, as one who always abandoned himself in the loving arms of divine Providence, without being at all upset at the serious problems which arise today in obtaining generous or substantial donations, he decided to send me to Aden to make a good selection of these African creatures scattered about the various English possessions.
After due preparation by the person who supervises and directs our male Institute with tender care and pious industry, when it was the proper time to take four young Africans to Naples since they could not cope with the rigours of Verona’s climate, the time came for me to proceed with the prescribed task.
Therefore, since my trip to Venice where I managed to obtain a passport for the four Africans from His Excellency Baron Togenberg, the Lieutenant of the Venetian regions, had been thoroughly successful, I left the College and Verona on the morning of 26th November last. After crossing the boundaries of the Austrian States and the area bordering Lake Garda, I looked nostalgically towards the shores of my homeland at Limone, where I was born. I stopped in Brescia in the hope of embracing my good and elderly father whom I had a deep longing to see and comfort, since I was undertaking a journey somewhat longer than that between Verona and Avesa. But alas! My hopes were in vain, for a raging storm had blown up on Lake Garda the day before, and to make the journey from Limone and Gargnano was absolutely out of the question. May the Lord be blessed for ever.
At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, after paying my respects to the Bishop of Brescia, to Mgr Tiboni and to my dearest friend, Fr Pelizzari, I left for Milan by the first possible means. That same evening I was cordially welcomed there with the four young men and Fr Luciano, at the Seminary of the Foreign Missions in S. Calocero.My heart was flooded with the sweetest joy at talking to that holy soul, the Rector of the Seminary, and at finding myself among my dearest brothers, student priests in that flourishing garden of Gospel charity where so many generous souls are imbued with the zeal and virtues of the Apostles and Martyrs. They have broken the bonds of nature and blood with pious resolve, overcoming the ostentation of human prosperity and grandeur which a wealth and intelligence could have offered them. Abandoning the joys of their local neighbourhoods, they subsequently scatter all over the face of the earth to raise the standard of the Cross in the numerous kingdoms bent under the burden of Satan’s reign, to rouse them from the deep lethargy in which so many wretched peoples on whom the radiance of the bright star of the Faith has never shone groan oblivious, and to succeed in getting them to worship the Cross.
Then one of these young Missionaries brought me great consolation. Like me, he had been obliged to abandon the open field of his apostolic efforts, but in Oceania. And now fully resigned to the adorable dispositions of heaven, he was occupied, with tireless zeal, in preaching Parish Missions to the people and in the exercise of his priestly ministry. At dawn the following morning I found myself already in Monza, in the College of the Barnabite Fathers where I greeted some of them, who gave me a token of their friendship and support of the work to which I am dedicated.
At 10.00 a.m. I was engaged in a friendly conversation with our beloved friend, the Barnabite Fr Calcagni, Vice Rector of the Royal Longoni College who played a trick on me which I did not fully appreciate. Since he had asked me if he could make a copy of the letter which Mgr Ratisbonne, who was miraculously converted from Judaism to the Faith, had written to me last August from Jerusalem, I gave it to him on the promise that at 1.00 p.m. he would send it to the Seminary of the Foreign Missions. But to my great dismay at the fixed time he sent me a copy of the letter and not the original, enclosing a 20 franc coin and his best wishes for my journey.
I forgave him, with the promise to get my own back on him one day, with interest! At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, having taken my leave of the Missionaries, I was already on the train. After a rapid glance at the fields of Magenta and the Ticino bridge and passing Novara and Alessandria, at 10.00 p.m. I was already having dinner with my Africans at the Christopher Columbus Hotel in Genoa.
On the morning of the 28th, after celebrating the Divine Sacrifice in the Church of the Annunciation, the most beautiful and magnificent in Liguria’s capital, I left the young men with Fr Luciano and did the rounds of the various agencies with steamships bound directly for the two Sicilies, to sniff out something favourable for my purposes. I had already started to negotiate a lucrative contract with the Société Marseillaise, Fraissenet et Frères, from which I obtained a discount of almost half the cost of the passage; but since I was living in uncertainty as to when the steamer which was to take us to Naples would arrive in Genoa, I drew up a contract with the Società Zuccòli, which had a mail boat bound for Naples leaving that very evening, and obtained a discount for all six of us: one third of the cost off for each. We therefore boarded the Stella d’Italia, an excellent Italian steamer, at 9 o’clock in the evening. On board, in the bright moonlight we saw the enchanting spectacle of the view of the Ligurian capital seen from the sea.
Defended from land and sea by the substantial fortifications of nature and art, it has the loveliest location, and its splendid buildings are embellished by a huge semicircular port with two big piers and a gigantic lighthouse that serves as a star to helmsmen at night. This very busy free port acts as a rather large general warehouse for goods of every kind and is one of the busiest trading points in Europe. Having hailed these delightful shores of Liguria, after three hours we had left the pleasant beaches of the magnificent Gulf of La Spezia behind us. The next morning we cast anchor in the port of Leghorn and landed. We celebrated Mass in the cathedral and I looked for the Madonna in the classic style by Fr Giravia (about which the Fathers, his companions, had told me), but I failed to find it since a few months ago it was taken to Pisa by the Italian Government.
At midday the Stella d’Italia set sail from the port of Leghorn. As soon as she had reached the open sea a wind was unleashed against us for more than 25 hours. Consequently the four Africans could eat nothing and had to pay the sea the usual tribute. Not so for me. Because of my travels in the east I have become accustomed to spending whole months on the water; my appetite increased so that at table I made up with relish for my suffering travelling companions. We saw the enchanting islands of Capraia and Gorgona rising from sea-level. We passed very close to Porto Ferraio and the arid, desolate Island of Elba which offered the great Napoleon so squalid and dismal a sojourn.
Two miles from the celebrated prisoner’s gloomy residence, we crossed the Zuavo di Palestro, a Sardinian steamer carrying 1,200 of Garibaldi’s volunteers on their way to their families in Piedmont and Lombardy after their painful efforts in Calatafimi, Palermo, Milazzo and Capua. I asked one of Garibaldi’s officials, Duke Salvatore Mungo who was on board with us and one of the survivors of the thousand that landed at Marsala, for news of Prina, a former pupil at our Institute. He lavished praise upon him as a courageous official. He told me that he was not a colonel, but had distinguished himself in Milazzo. He was returning from the Island of Caprera, where he had been with his Duke, and assured me that it was Garibaldi’s intention to go first to Hungary rather than Venice, which would not shake off its yoke for a few years yet.
During this and the many other topics the “Garibaldino” discussed with me, we reached the straits that separate the famous Island of Procida from the Island of Ischia, beyond which the charming Gulf of Naples unfolds into a marvellous amphitheatre. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon we had already been through formalities with the maritime office of the Parthenopean capital, and when the passports had been returned we were very cordially received at the Palma Institute by Fr Lodovico da Casoria, the director of the African School. During the few days which now kept me in Naples, although I had already met him last year when I had disembarked at Naples, I was nevertheless able to admire and appreciate this good father at close quarters; I am persuaded that he is one of those extraordinary men whom Providence from time to time inspires for the benefit of humanity, and for the spread and increase of God’s glory.
According to what some of the Palma Fathers told me, although Fr Lodovico lived under the banner of St Francis, he had not been formerly a perfect observer of the Rule of his Institute. He had been able to procure for himself many of the comforts of his rich home, he was inclined to be alien to that subordination which a religious ought to show, and he had worldly friendships with several people of high rank, who took a poor view of one of their equals being humiliated by the abject state of an obscure Franciscan. Then he was absolutely contrary to the effort and application of all the Franciscan practices, and delighted only in philosophical and mathematical studies in which he had made enormous progress and which he had spent many years teaching. Stricken by a serious illness, his guardian took this opportunity to face him with his past conduct that did not closely conform to the spirit of the Seraphic Institute, and suggested that were God pleased to restore his health, he give up the way he had been living in religion and promise Mary to reform his habits and behaviour in accordance with the spirit of the Institute in which he had been recruited by his vocation. Then Fr Lodovico came to himself; and offered himself to God with humility of heart, ready for whatever arduous undertaking the Lord would call him to. Divine grace then spread abundantly in the soul of this good Servant of God. Rejecting all that he recognised as secular which did not conform to his religion and distancing himself from it, he spent several years in total retreat. The following are among his achievements, not to mention his many other enterprises.
1. He started a Reform of the Province of Naples, which had somewhat deteriorated, more or less as Blessed Leonard of Porto Maurizio did when he set up the Retreat of St. Bonaventure in Rome. 2. He founded the Institute for Indigenous Missionaries, where priests from all over Italy are gathered to be trained for Mission work and in the Spiritual Exercises. They then scatter all over Italy giving parish Missions free, dependent on the Institute for everything and practising their apostolic ministry only at its command. In the two Sicilies this Institute has done a great deal of good. 3. He founded a large Home for the poor in Naples; then another, to provide instruction for the ignorant. 4. He founded a large Infirmary for all Franciscans in Naples. 5. Finally he laid the basis for a further two African Institutes and opened them, a male Institute administered by the Franciscans and a female one by the Stigmatine Sisters who are totally dedicated to the education of African girls.
All these five great works were at Fr Ludovico’s expense. He is always orderly, like our Superior and maintains them by asking daily for alms. A word about the African schools.
Under the patronage of the late King Ferdinando II and especially authorised by the General Council of the Seraphic Order, the school for Africans, the Institute at La Palma where the Prefect of the Reform movement lives, aims to rescue young people gathered from the African countries from the slavery and wretchedness in which they are ensnared, and to educate and instruct them in the Faith, in Catholic knowledge and in civil arts of all kinds. Well educated, instructed and formed in the Catholic spirit, they return to their countries as adults to spread the Faith of J.C. and Christian civilisation, each according to his profession.
The young Africans who are to be instructed in the Christian Faith and baptised as they arrive from Africa will all wear the Franciscan habit as young pupils, and as such will have the conduct and discipline of young religious. They will be initiated with discreet guidance in the customs of the Seraphic religion, to studies and to crafts. It will be the duty of the father who is the Prefect of La Palma, after examining them and becoming acquainted with the temperament and capacity of the young Africans, to grade them in elementary studies. They must all undertake these until the age of 18, taught by suitable teachers assigned to them by the Prefect, either religious belonging to the Order or lay people of proven knowledge and goodness. However, the latter must be licensed by the Province or the Minister General.
When they have completed their elementary education at the age of 18, the young Africans will be divided into three categories according to their capacity and vocation: Clerics preparing for priesthood, professed laymen who are also craftsmen, and lay members of the Third Order of St. Francis (like Tacuso) who are craftsmen too, but free to embrace the married state. The former two categories will profess servatis servandis the Rule of the Order of Friars Minor. For their regular Novitiate, subject to the Holy See’s approval, they will be under the direction and judgement of the religious community of La Palma, in separate quarters in the same school. They will have suitable premises for the Novitiate where they will be given the appropriate religious education in accordance to the Order’s regulations. Then proceeding to those in the first category who are of the age to be ordained, they will be presented to the respective Ordinary with dimissorial letters from the Province. It is thereby intended that the young Africans will become sons of the Order of Friars Minor assigned to the African Missions by a special understanding. The General of the Order will provide them with what they require for this. Lastly, those in the third category will live in Europe, clothed and professed as Tertiaries of St Francis, and will take part in the school’s affairs and become skilled craftsmen.
When they have received the necessary instruction and institutions, the African priests who are Minors, lay Minors or Tertiaries of St Francis will leave for the African Missions, with the knowledge of both the Principal and the Prefect whenever necessary, and with the “Obedience” of the Minister General of the Order. The Priests as true Missionaries of Christ, the propagators of the Christian faith; the Lay professed at the service of the Priests and who will also be catechists and teachers of the infidel people who will be converted to Jesus Christ; and the Tertiaries, mingling more freely with those peoples under the guidance of the Missionaries, their brothers, in their practice of the crafts and trades they learned at the College, will use them in the service of the light of the Faith.
They will always leave in twos or threes, and will live everywhere like that; never alone. The order will be: a Priest and a Lay person, or a Priest, a Lay person and a Tertiary. In religious profession they will all vow to go to Africa, but an exception will be made for those who are chosen and able to teach in the College of La Palma or serve in this school as officials or for any other valid reason which it is the Superior’s duty to recognise. Fr Prefect will be responsible for devoting all his care to ensuring that as young Africans of any category make good progress in the branches of knowledge or trades, and become capable of being teachers themselves in this same College, then he will appoint them, designating them to the sector that is most compatible with their abilities.
The same applies to the officials such as prefects, cooks, assistants, porters, cellarers or scullery-boys, etc., etc., so that the Seraphic College of the Africans in La Palma gradually becomes a uniform community of young Africans. After the Africans have served in the African Missions, after long years of effort sustained for J.C., whether they are Priests, Lay professed or Tertiaries, if due to old age or illness, or any other valid reason they are no longer able to work at the service of those Missions, when the Superiors of the Province or College have been notified, they should be given shelter and rest in this same College in La Palma.
This is a rough outline of the programme of the Institute of Africans in La Palma. It now has 52 pupils, including the four I have brought. I was satisfied to see ten or twelve workshops of carpenters, tailors, cobblers, weavers, metal workers, farmers, etc., etc., and a lovely pharmacy, with two teachers of medicine and pharmacology. Then there is an enormous garden adjacent to the La Palma College, divided up into numerous plots, destined to produce various foodstuffs and groceries. The young Africans come here every day, after they have been streamed into different classes, to learn how to grow specific foodstuffs and every branch of agriculture. Twenty-two young African girls are now trained with suitable rules for the Missions of Africa. I was amazed by their progress in studies and feminine handicrafts. Last year many examples of the handiwork of these African girls were accepted as exhibits in the City Exhibition of Naples, and won prizes. But I will write about this Institute later.
I was very pleased with the instruction of the African boys in the La Palma College. Sixteen of them are studying humanities and rhetoric (except Greek), four philosophy, and the rest lower grammar school studies. What impressed me most was their orderliness, their silence at the proper times, their exact discipline, their love of exercises of piety, and their desire to be holy and consumed in self-sacrifice for their unbelieving brothers and sisters by those ways in which obedience and their vocation will lead. Is it possible, I said one day to Fr Lodovico, is it possible that the Africans of La Palma are all good? I do not think so, because from what I have been able to discover through the little experience I have with Africans, many are good, but some do not seem capable of piety and the perfect observance of our most holy religion.
Oh! Listen, my dear brother, the Father answered, I founded my school to make Hell into Paradise, so that wicked young people become good. When the Africans came to La Palma, they were devils, and I almost despaired of making them good. But with patience, with constant vigilance, day and night, and with the tireless efforts of my teachers, they are all good and I must thank God that there is not a single one, not one who is bad.
We must not be alarmed if at first we see them as bad, with God’s grace and tireless, fatherly tenderness, everything is overcome. In fact in each group there are two prefects, one of whom watches all night: whenever a young African shows a bad tendency, all the weapons of Christian prudence are directed against it and he is not abandoned until the defect is completely uprooted, so that willy-nilly, with kindness or severity, through love or by force he must give up that vice. However, enough on this topic. I noticed many things with regard to the way the Institute was run, but it would tire you as much to read about them as it would me to write them so, Khalàs.
Let us now have a look at profane things. To tell you something of Naples, I believe it would be impossible to imagine its unique and beautiful situation and the superb sight it offers from any angle. The city is situated to the south-east on the slopes of a long line of hills bordering a gulf which is more than five leagues wide and as long, ending at the sides in two promontories clad in fresh green. The Island of Capri on one side, and that of Procida on the other seem to enclose the gulf, disclosing an immense panorama of the sea between these two islands and the two promontories.
The city seems to crown this delightful bay. One section to the west stands like an amphitheatre on the hills of Polisippo and Antignano. The other stretches towards the east on flatter land, edged by the loveliest villas and houses as far as Mount Vesuvius which, at night, is like a very bright sun whose light is concentrated in its seven mouths which constantly belch forth lava and bitumen. In the centre of this magnificent cliff, all covered in oranges and lemons and every kind of greenery, stands Capodimonte, where the kings have their summer palace and which is close to La Palma. Famous travellers hold that this is the most beautiful view in the world and there is nothing to be compared with the loveliness of such a situation.
If in addition one were to consider the gentle climate, the fertility of the countryside, the beauty of the neighbouring villages and the grandeur of the buildings, the magnificence of its streets all covered with great stone slabs like our Piazza dei Signori, one would be convinced that Naples is one of the most magnificent and pleasant places in the whole world to stay in. The Toledo road runs for a mile and a half in a perfectly straight line, that of Chiaia, which for a long stretch borders the Royal Villa which extends to the seashore where it offers a magnificent view. It is flanked on the land side by well-disposed entrance gates, here and there interspersed with multicoloured tall columns which, to the north-west, form a large semicircle enclosing hundreds of marble statues, copied from the best examples of antiquity and some of the most superb in Europe.
The churches in general are very beautiful and surprising, and display to those who take note of the fervent piety of the Neapolitans who go there and of those who built them. The architecturally modern S. Francesco di Paola, with a wealth of works by the most famous modern artists on the exterior, which faces the great royal palace, is flanked by two porticoes supported by 44 great columns. It is adorned with colossal statues: Religion, St Francis and St Louis, standing in the vestibule formed by 10 great columns and as many pilasters. The perfectly circular interior is an imitation of the Pantheon in Rome.
St. Martino on the St. Elmo Hill, at the foot of the castle which dominates the town, is in a wonderful position. The Gesù Nuovo all decorated with marble, houses the tomb of St. Francesco de Jeronimo, above whose body I celebrated Mass; it is enclosed in a silver casket all encrusted with pearls and precious stones. Together with St. Gaetano, in whose crypt is preserved the body over which I also celebrated Mass, these are all magnificent churches.
But St. Gennaro (Januarius), that is, the cathedral, is the loveliest church in Naples. The interior has three naves divided and sustained by (it seems to me) 18 pilasters and columns that belonged to the idols of pagan times. Without mentioning the other innumerable works of art, I will only mention the chapel of theHoly Patron of the city, known as the treasury. The exterior is adorned by two large statues of St Peter and St Paul and a most beautiful bronze door. The interior is in the form of a Greek cross, the walls are covered in the finest marble and there are 42 columns of marble of Siena and 19 of bronze. It is all decorated with frescos by Domenichino. Behind the main altar in porphyry, in two small cells lined with laminated silver with small doors of the same metal, are kept the head of St. Gennaro and the two phials that contain some of his blood which normally liquefies at least two or four times a year when it is placed in front of the saint’s head, on the three feasts celebrated in honour of the saint in May, September and December, with their respective octaves.
This miracle, which is observed by countless Protestants and infidels, has given birth to and still today produces a great number of believers in Christ’s faith. (Since the last time the miracle occurred was just a fortnight ago, as I heard when I passed through Naples, it seems that it happened about half an hour earlier than usual and many cries could be heard in the church: “Look, look, St Gennaro is pleased with the Republic and wants you, Victor Emmanuel.” Here, with regard to St. Gennaro, I would like to tell you about the extravagant scene that takes place on the day of the miracle. Firstly, supported by a vague and tenuous tradition, the Neapolitans claim they know that certain poor families are descendants of the Holy Patron’s family. Thus the populace is of the opinion that the miracle will only take place if one or more individuals of these descendants of the same blood as St. Gennaro is present.
The beggars are the first to arrive at the wonder-working chapel. A stream of improprieties and invectives precede the miracle. Amongst others the following expressions are shouted: “And who do you think you are St Gennaro, if you don’t want to work the miracle? And you have usurped the title of saint that you didn’t deserve. And why did you cheat those who have so revered you? You’re a good for nothing. And you who have snails’ horns, you’re useless! And what are you doing, cheating poor people? You are a dirty old impostor who is just mocking us… Look at him, look at the face he makes… he is making fools of us and laughing at us… And it would be better to make a fool of you than to let you make fools of us… look at him mocking us and ridiculing us… You just can’t do the miracle, you are useless, get down off that plinth (turning towards the statue). And what do you think you’re doing there, swindler and impostor? You’re not a saint, and you’re not in heaven, you are no good for anything. Come down, come down, and don’t eat at our expense!…” And so on.
Other even stranger things were uttered by those beggars, which it would take too long to describe and which I have forgotten. Really, if someone wrote those things to me I wouldn’t believe them; but those who have been to Naples and know how backward that nation is and indeed, how inclined it is to piety, albeit of a somewhat superstitious kind, would soon believe them. Such things and the like were told to me by reliable persons.
In Naples with Fr Luciano, we visited the most remarkable sights including the catacombs, wider but shorter than those in Rome, the National Museum, the second in the world after the Vatican according to experts, and from the viewpoint that it perfectly illustrates the customs of the ancients with material exhibits, it is the greatest in the world. But it would take five sheets! We visited the grotto of Polisippo, a wonderful underground grotto which houses the tomb of Virgil, lit by candles, etc. Pompei, Herculaneum, etc. But I will write, if I have time, in another letter, as I will on my trips to Palermo and Rome. But I don’t have the time now, because I have just been told that the steamship from the East Indian Company has arrived in Suez from Calcutta and will sail within the week. Tomorrow I am leaving for Cairo and Suez. I will write from Aden, but cum pactu that I do not want to be starved of your letters.
I send an affectionate greeting to all the boys, prefects and clerics at our dear Institute, and I commend myself to their prayers because I am going to have a tough fight with the English. Not to mention the rest, there is an edict posted at the Turkish customs and at the European consulates which prohibits the Consuls and Governors in Alexandria from letting slaves or natives go through without investigating them and knowing where they come from, and without it all being above board. I want to transcribe it this evening before leaving Alexandria. Therefore I need help from on high. But it is not worth worrying about. Christ’s horns are harder than Satan’s, and if God wants the work, neither Englishmen, nor Turks nor devil can oppose it.
Please give my regards to Fr Tomba, Fr Fochesato, Fr Fukesneker, Fr Donato, Fr Clerici, Fr Urbani, Fr Lonardoni, Toffaloni and his son, and all the Priests in the Institute; the cabinet-makers, Marquis and Marchioness Carlotti and the Count and Countess Cavvazocca, Parisi and Morelli. Give my best wishes to the Bishops, etc., etc., and keep me always in the Most Holy Hearts of J. and M., from

Your most affectionate friend,

Fr Daniel

Give special greetings to my godson Vittorio. I would like to have some news of him. My greetings to the Patuzzi, Biadego and Fontana families, etc. G. Scaùi, who is well, sends you his best wishes, and according to what I have heard, the Missionary Fathers are doing very well. Three violent storms slightly affected my state of health but I am fine now.
Fr. Nicola Mazza
2. 1.1861
AMV, Cart. “Missione Africana”

Most Reverend and beloved Fr Superior!

Alexandria, Egypt, 2 January 1861
I have arrived safely in Egypt. First of all, in Rome I forgot to write that His Eminence Cardinal Barnabò told me that last month he had received a letter from the Pro-Vicar of Central Africa in which, not directly, but in substance, Kirchner wrote in such a way that he seemed prepared, at a mere signal from the Cardinal, to return to Europe and abandon the Mission. Barnabò then told me that the Pro-Vicar is extremely disheartened. Here in Egypt I have now heard that one of the two Franciscans attached to the Mission got tired and came back to Negade in Upper Egypt and now works with the Mission of the Reformed Group, saying that he no longer wants to know about Central Africa. Fr Giovanni (I do not know whether he is ours, or the remaining Franciscan) has left for the White Nile.
In Naples Fr Lodovico told me that he has decided to go on a tour of the whole of Europe to collect all the Africans and bring them to his convent in La Palma. Once political affairs have calmed down, he wants to go to Paris to introduce himself to Napoleon, and implore from him the grace of not only fostering the redemption of Africans [from slavery], but also addressing all the powers in Europe to convince them to determine, and to give orders to their respective Consulates in Egypt, to protect, favour and assist all those who go to Africa and the East to take Africans back to Europe so as to educate them for the African Missions. This idea was approved and favoured by King Francis II, who declared he would deploy all his royal authority to recommend the plan to the Emperor of the French and to the European powers.
In Egypt there are specially appointed agents employed by the Pasha’s Government and by the Consulates to check whether any Africans are being transported to Europe. I have read an edict posted at the Diwan of Alexandria and in the Chancelleries of all the European Consulates which absolutely prohibits both the Turkish authorities and the consulates from encouraging the passage of Africans. Three of Fr Olivieri’s African girls who were on their way from the convent of the Daughters of Charity to the railway station for Cairo, were arrested and put in prison. They cannot even go from Alexandria to Cairo or vice versa.
The Pro-Vicar Apostolic of Egypt, whose residence is in Alexandria, says it is absolutely impossible to transfer Africans to Europe. We must not be daunted by this however. With my trust in God, and in Russell’s protection which I obtained from Lord Pope-Hennessy in Rome, I hope, despite great difficulties, to be able to achieve our objective. Nobody in Alexandria knows the purpose of my trip. Everyone thinks I am going to the new mission at Aswan. I thought it appropriate to tell only the Pro-Vicar of Egypt, a most prudent man, who is aware of all Fr Olivieri’s dealings and secrets, and is a man who can keep a secret (a rare thing among friars, none of whom I trust). It is right that this man, who receives me in his convent, who sees me coming and going in Alexandria, and who likes me, should know. He can only enlighten me, foster my efforts and show me the right ways of escaping the enemies of our Cause.
The person I have chosen to be our correspondent for the despatch of money in Alexandria is Signor Angelo Albengo. He is a man of very good repute, prudent, a good Christian and is trusted also by Fr Beltrame. You, Fr Superior, will convey the money to Cavaliere Napoli in Trieste; he, by means of Lloyd Austriaco, without going through the Austrian consulate, will send it directly to Signor Angelo Albengo, who will forward it to me in Aden by means of the East India Company ships.
I think it appropriate not to involve the Austrian Consul in Alexandria at all in this affair, for he is opposed to our undertaking, as I have been told by the Pro-Vicar of Egypt. He shares the same opinion as all the other Consuls in Egypt. Let me just say that in the case of Fr Olivieri’s four Africans, he excused himself for not being able to help any of them in view of the laws in force in Egypt, when faced with a letter of recommendation from the Emperor of Austria. That is what the Pro-Vicar told me. I therefore ask for your prayers and those of the Institute.
Tomorrow I leave for Cairo, and three days later I shall be leaving Suez for Aden. You will find enclosed a letter for Cavaliere Napoli: read it and send it, if you like it. You will find below the way to despatch letters and money. Please give my humble regards to My Lord Bishop, to Monsignor Canossa, to Fr Albertini, to Fr Cesare, to the Mistresses Cavattoni and to the entire male and female Institutes. Receive my veneration and affection

Your unworthy son

Fr Daniel Comboni

Please give my greetings to the chemist Gaetano Sommacampagna

Address for letters to me
To most Reverend Sir Daniel Comboni*
Apostolic Missionary in Aden*
Registered to the Consul General of Austria
in Alexandria, Egypt

[*these two lines are in English in the original]

Address for the money
You should send the money to the Most Illustrious Signor Luigi Cavalier Napoli; who should then send it directly by means of Lloyd Austriaco to Signor Angelo Albengo in Alexandria, Egypt, so that he may then forward it according to my instructions to Fr Daniel Comboni, Apostolic Missionary in Aden.
N.B. When you send the money to Cavaliere Napoli in Trieste, it would be good if you immediately were to write a letter to Signor Angelo Albengo in Alexandria and one to me in Aden, to inform us both of your despatch. I think you should refrain from sending letters of credit to Alexandria, because there are many crooks and quite a few false companies. Money is safer. It can then be changed into English guineas in Alexandria.

Fr Daniel Comboni

Fr. Nicola Mazza
On board the Candy
6. 1.1861
AMV, Cart. “Missione Africana”

Most Reverend Father Superior!

On board the Candy on the Red Sea, 6 January 1861
I trust you will have received my letters from Alexandria as well as those from our dear Missionaries in Central Africa. Having reached Cairo in the evening of the 4th, I had the consolation of finding the Pro-Vicar Apostolic, Fr Matteo Kirchner, with whom I spent the night until it was time to leave for Suez. He is in good health, and he informed me that Fr Dalbosco is very well and Fr Beltrame is alright, although he has become much thinner and has aged to such an extent that he now looks 45. We talked the whole time about the Central African Mission; here is the news that you, Father Superior, will have already seen in our Missionaries’ reports.
Fr Alessandro and Fr Giovanni are in a great state of anxiety because they have not received letters from Verona for over a year. They left Khartoum on our boat, the Stella Matutina, and after passing all the cataracts reached our new mission at Shellal last September. Here the house is already finished and lived in by the Missionaries who are there at present, and by the boys of the Mission who are being tirelessly taught how to work and how to farm.
Since last month three Missionaries have left for the White Nile under the leadership of FrMorlan, who was already the head of the distant mission of Bari, beyond the Holy Cross mission; but according to the Pro-Vicar they will certainly not reach their destination due to the war of the traders with the Africans, an atrocious war which has induced the Turkish Government to defend those who are in the wrong, the European and Muslim traders. There have already been 3,000 prisoners taken into slavery who are sold in the markets of Kordofan, Sennar and Dongola, and are employed in the most demeaning tasks. Fr Beltrame has already finished the work on the Dinka dictionary, grammar and catechism, but has not sent it for fear that it might get lost together with the letters. I have written to him from Cairo, and I informed the Pro-Vicar, that he should send it to Cairo and I shall bring it on my way back.
The Pro-Vicar sees little hope for the conversion of Africa. If I look at Europe, he says, everything is beautiful; but if I consider things in Africa, here on the spot, every thing seems dark, I see no hope.
Besides, to my great surprise, he is not too favourable to the plan of educating young African boys and girls in Europe, because over there they become used to soft living and study too much science rather than agriculture and crafts. Instead, he intends to bring quite a number to the new Mission Station and to have them work during the day, giving them religious instruction at night. To Naples, he told me, I send as few as possible. He has paid all the Mission’s debts with money he received from his family, which remains the Fr Pro-Vicar’s creditor. He is now staying in Egypt waiting for the Council of Propaganda to pronounce on two points: 1. Whether he should continue building the Mission Station to house more priests.
2. To establish and restore union between the Mission and the Franciscan order.

That Order has sent three friars, one of whom died in Cairo. Another abandoned the Mission and withdrew with his people to the Apostolic Prefecture of Upper Egypt. The third is holding on in Shellal, but is nearly exhausted. The General of the Franciscans seems opposed to joining with the Mission for Central Africa. Therefore I am afraid that the union of the Mission with the Franciscan Order will not bring any advantages. Furthermore the Pro-Vicar is ready to go to Rome to arrange everything: but for the time being he awaits a letter from the Cardinal. In any case he seems in quite good spirit, and not as Barnabò described him to me.
Both in Alexandria and in Cairo I noted that a large number of slaves are scattered over the Indies. Slavery is in full force in the sheriffdom of Arabia, where many of these wretched Africans are sold to the highest bidder. I was told this by a man who had bought three African women at an auction for 60 thalers each. In Alexandria I discovered that boat loads of slaves sail at night from Massaua and Suakin, Abyssinian towns on the coast of the Red Sea, to the coasts of Arabia, where the African slave trade is not abolished. It was in such circumstances that an English ship sailing from Suez to Aden confiscated a boat laden with Africans. I hope, therefore, that in Aden I will be able to make a selection in accordance with your wishes. You must just have prayers said for this undertaking.
I have already been a day and a night on board the Candy sailing in the Red Sea. We are about 680 passengers. From Suez to Aden I was fortunately able to have a second class ticket, on which I did not obtain any discount from the English: so that I had to pay the listed price of 19 pounds sterling, equivalent to nearly 25 gold Napoleons.
I have given orders to our correspondent in Alexandria to change all the gold Napoleons into English pounds; which it would perhaps be appropriate to do in Trieste. But I shall inform myself on the matter, because in all the Middle East the pound sterling has a 4 percent advantage over the 20 franc piece. For every thousand thalers purchased in Aden with gold Napoleons one loses about 40 thalers. This bears thinking about. You should send gold Napoleons to the Cavaliere Napoli in Trieste: and he will do what I will tell him on the basis of the information I receive. I am well. In 8 day’s time I will be in Aden. I ask for your blessing, while I am happy to sign myself

Your most obedient son Fr Daniel

Fr. Francesco Bricolo
13. 1.1861
ACR, A, c. 14/5

My dear Fr Francesco!

Aden, 13 January 1861
For the moment I am sending you a simple greeting. During the 6 hours I spent in Cairo I met the Pro-Vicar who gave me excellent news of the Missionaries who are in Shellal. Carré’s mother gave me 2 Turkish guineas and 1 English one for her sons in Verona. Arrange matters with the Superior, or just give them yourself to Carré, for when I return to Verona everything will be settled. I left Suez at 5 on board the Candy, a ship of the East India Company carrying 680 passengers, for the most part English or Indian, without counting the crew. On the evening of 10th January after going through the Bab-el-Mandel straits we entered the Indian Ocean and reached Aden on the evening of 12th January. Greetings to all, whom I beg to pray for

Your most affectionate Fr Daniel

Fr. Nicola Mazza
13. 1.1861
AMV, Cart. “Missione Africana”

Dearest Fr Superior!

Aden, 13 January 1861
Having left Alexandria on the morning of 4th January, I reached Suez on the evening of 5th January by rail. Embarking there on a ship of the East India Company, the Candy, in the company of some 680 English and Indian passengers, after 7 days’ sailing in the Red Sea, the last three of which in a fair storm, especially as we entered the Indian Ocean, I reached Aden, where I now find myself in excellent health.
The enclosed letter of 6th January, which I wrote on board the Candy in the Red Sea, tells you of my meeting with the Pro-Vicar in Cairo. I now want to add that the Pro-Vicar has just brought a few African young women to Cairo on the Stella Mattutina from Fr Beltrame in Holy Cross. Among them there is a certain Zenab of the Dinka tribe whom I know very well. She has a good knowledge of Arabic and Dinka and it was she who, after an African called Kachwal, helped at Holy Cross and especially helped Fr Beltrame to compile the Dinka dictionary and grammar. This young African woman has great talents and a very good heart. Now with reference to the Plan that you devised for the African Missions, this young Zenab could be extremely useful in our African Institute in Verona to teach the Dinka language and its true pronunciation. Although the Pro-Vicar is somewhat opposed to sending Africans to Verona, I am nevertheless certain that if he had a letter from you, he would spontaneously do anything you wished. Therefore, in my opinion, Fr Superior, you should write to the Pro-Vicar in Cairo begging him to let you have the good young Zenab for the good of your Institute in Verona, promising that at the end of her education she would be available for the Mission. At present she is with the Good Shepherd Sisters in Cairo. Address the letter as follows:
To the Very Reverend Pro-Vicar Fr Matteo Kirchner
Care of Cavaliere Fathalla Mardrus
Courtesy of the Imperial Consul of Austria in
Cairo, Egypt

Should you receive a positive answer (of which I have no doubt) write to me, addressing the letter to Cairo, care of Cavaliere Fathalla Mardrus.
Here is what I can tell you so far of my assignment in Aden. The Spaniard, Fr Giovenale, Prefect Apostolic of Aden had 16Africans,men and women, when the Carmelite Fr Luigi came through. Seeing that no-one in Europe would take care of them despite his repeated appeals, he placed them here and there with different families. Just when only three remained (the most docile and the most capable) whom he had decided to give over to a trader, he received the letter I wrote from Venice and kept them in his house and set about trying to retrieve some of the others he had handed over; but so far he has achieved nothing.
Today I visited seven of those that are here and there; and although I intend to examine them in two months’ time, during which period I shall study their character and intelligence, I can already estimate that I am morally certain that I will be taking at least six. But rest assured, Fr Superior, that I will show the greatest care in selecting them according to your criteria, specifically insisting on docility. I can say nothing for the time being of the African girls nor of an older boy or girl that could serve as a guide for the others. The six I have my eye on are all male.
But there is another affair that Providence seems to be preparing for us to get young Africans to educate in Europe. I shall tell you of this matter and my thoughts on it, relying entirely on your will and orders before making any move in what I am about to explain. In Egypt it came to my knowledge that in Madagascar there are very many Africans who would give themselves up for 100 francs or less. On this subject you can read the September 1860 issue of the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith in which, I am told, Fr Finnaz, the Prefect Apostolic of the Madagascar Missions, in a letter written at Mayotte in the Comores archipelago, appeals to European charity to redeem these souls.
Now among the many travellers who were aboard the Candy, after my investigations, I found quite a number of natives of Bourbon Island, or Réunion, which is ruled by France, of which it is a rich colony. One of these was an excellent Catholic, Signor Emuabal Robert, born in St Benoît, the richest province in Bourbon. He is a very rich trader who, having commercial establishments on the shores of Madagascar, on the island of Mauritius and in Bourbon, has a precise knowledge of all the towns in Southern Africa. After a few days spent in getting acquainted with this splendid indigenous character from Réunion with a view to knowing him thoroughly, it seemed to me that he was the appropriate person to inform me on the conditions of the inhabitants of Madagascar.
In this matter, I asked him to seek out the most exact and up-to-date information regarding my questions and personally to deliver to the Bishop of Bourbon who lives in the capital, St Denis, a letter from me in which, after explaining the plan for the creation of male and female Institutes for the education of Africans in Verona, I turned to him for precise information on the natives of Madagascar, particularly on the following points: 1. How many boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 10 would be available, at what price could they be freed if they were found to be adequately docile and endowed with all the qualities required by my Institute (which I described in my letter). 2. If, once they were bought, they could be transferred from Madagascar to Réunion island. 3. If, once they were in Réunion, they could be declared French subjects by the government of the island so as to avoid the difficulties that arise in taking them to Europe since the abolition of slavery ratified at the Paris Congress. 4. Whether he could tell me the way to learn the language of Madagascar, in case the natives brought from Madagascar proved apt for the Mission in Central Africa. 5. That he should contact the Missionaries under his authority and dependent on him as head of the Madagascar Missions.
In the event that all my arguments had an effect and my intentions were just, having sought the advice and heard the opinion of my Superior, I would be prepared to travel to Réunion, and, on the advice of the Bishop, also to Madagascar, so as to select personally the group of boys and girls the Superior would allow and we could afford. Now this matter, Fr Superior, merits your serious consideration. All the reasons for which I have come to Aden to collect young Abyssinians apply equally to those in Madagascar, should the three points requested of the Bishop of Bourbon be carried out. Moreover, Madagascar offers us a nursery to supply our Verona Institute copiously with young Africans. I am therefore of the opinion that the following two things should be done: 1. Make a trip to Bourbon to observe the character of the Africans from Madagascar, learn the formalities to be fulfilled with the despotic government of the Queen of Madagascar and the French Government of Réunion and examine every aspect regarding the success of our work with the young people of Madagascar. The Bishops of Bourbon and Mauritius would give support. 2. From among the Africans offered to me, choose 6 or 12, as you think fit, half boys and half girls, and bring them with me to Verona to establish whether they are appropriate for the Plan for the Conversion of Africa.
Dear Fr Superior, these are my thoughts. I submit them to you and await an immediate decision. As far as I can see, in pondering over this plan of mine, I should not waste a single day in implementing it; but this is a matter to be decided at a high level, which is why I await your orders which will always govern my actions; but I await them immediately, immediately and at once.
It takes 14 days to reach the island of Réunion by ship from Aden. It lies one and a half degrees north of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Indian Ocean. A ship leaves Suez once a month for this island, and vice versa. It would cost 300 thalers. I could do everything in a month and a half. If I were to undertake the trip to Bourbon and Madagascar, it seems quite probable that I would return to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope. I have already contacted two Indian companies for them to stipulate a contract. If I were able to bring at least 18 persons with me, I would have two advantages in signing a contract from Réunion to Marseilles: the first would be, I hope, a lesser expense; the second, and more important, would be avoiding the serious difficulties which, despite high-level protection, I already expect in Egypt. In any case I shall be thinking about this and taking care of it myself. Please have prayers said and pray for me, that God may be my guide.
No difficulty, discomfort, suffering or climate can frighten me when I have the hope of acting in accordance with your plan for the Conversion of Africa. Just think of giving me orders regarding the above-mentioned plan and sending me the money you can right away. It should not be more than 500 gold Napoleons and not less than 100 gold Napoleons. Order our correspondents in Trieste and Alexandria to send it on immediately, telling the latter to change it all into English Guineas. I cannot tell you now the exact cost for each person, since I have not yet decided by which route I shall return. But of these matters you have taught me to have no fear. My only wish on this journey is to ensure that the Plan will have the means to receive a constant flow of young African men and women suited to the Mission in Africa. I hope you will have understood my conception. I have explained it badly, firstly because I lack the ability to do so and also because I have to hurry because the India bag leaves for Suez today.
In Aden, which is on the same Latitude North as the Dinka tribe, it is very hot, and there is a good deal of fever. Today at midday it was 29 degrees Réaumur. There is a Prefect Apostolic and a Lay Capuchin. Another Capuchin Missionary Father left for Europe, worn out by the fevers. I am well, I am happy and fully confident of making good deals. For me Italian is banned. Here in Aden we speak Arabic, English, Spanish and Portuguese, all languages I understand and in which I will have to do my business. At the same time I have set my sights on the language of Abyssinia and that of Madagascar. I hope by the end of spring, when I get back to Verona, not to be totally ignorant of these languages which could come in handy for our Institute and for your Plan.
Please give my regards to all the priests and women teachers of the Institute, Fr Cesare, the Bishop, Fr Albertini, Monsignor Canossa and lots and lots to Signor zio Paiola. Grant your holy blessing

to your unworthy son

Fr Daniel

The answer to my letter from Bishop Montpoint of Bourbon is sure to reach me within 40 days.
Fr. Nicola Mazza
23. 1.1861
AMV, Cart. “Missione Africana”

Most Reverend Fr Superior!

Aden, 23 January 1861
Sublime Providence which in governing all things proceeds step by step and in the wisest order, doing nothing without a purpose, directing everything towards the accomplishment of its loving God-given plans through a regular sequence of vicissitudes and events, inspired your spirit, O most beloved Superior, to send me to Aden to gather together a fair number of young African boys and girls who are suited to the most holy ends of your great Plan for the conversion of Africa.
Now here, while the Lord permitted that of the numerous individuals I have examined I was only able to select a few young Gallas, he saw fit instead in his divine mercy to bless my journey more exuberantly by letting me see and clearly understand a most efficient and reliable channel to supply our African Institutes in Verona with the required number of young people of both sexes for the implementation of your plan, wisely thought out by you in accordance with the spirit of the Church which, already centuries ago, founded the Collegio Urbano of Propaganda Fide in Rome where young people from all over the world are brought so that, after they have been given an appropriate education, they may return to their native lands to communicate to their fellow countrymen all the benefits of civilisation and religion with which they have been enriched under the banner of the Cross in the centre of Catholicism.
I shall give you a brief outline of what I have been told in this respect by well-informed persons (including the distinguished Signor Bonaventura Mas, a rich Spanish trader, an excellent Catholic and who is most conversant with all the countries of East Africa, where he has many commercial concerns. He is in the service of the Bishop of Bourbon, responsible for the Missions of Madagascar and the neighbouring islands to ensure the necessary communications between the latter and provide them with material support), and I will describe this channel to you, proposing the means that seem to be required for it to be used to the advantage of the Central African Mission. You, Fr Superior, after having understood and considered all this, will be the one to decide, act and order anything that seems appropriate.
After the Congress of 1856, at which the great powers of Europe gathered in Paris to settle the affairs of the East, slavery and the African slave trade were abolished. France and England having nevertheless always maintained fleets of ships that patrol the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean along the coasts of south-eastern Africa so as to watch over and safeguard the enforcement of the decrees stipulated against the infamous trade, with the declared aim of supplying workers for those Colonies which need hands to till the soil, have in fact passed a law according to which there are certain countries, or islands under their control, where the respective European governors are authorised to name so-called Engagés, in other words to declare free all the African slaves who are introduced to them by anyone who has a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that they have been granted a permit to recruit Africans as their servants.
This law, which France extended to all its East African colonies, on account of the enormous abuse on the part of many people who under the pretence of making engagés were in fact practising the vile trade in Africans, was restricted to the three French islands only. These are located in the Indian Ocean in the vicinity of Madagascar and are Mayotte, Nos-Beh and Ste Marie under Latitude South and Longitude East according to the Paris Meridian, as follows:
Islands under French rule Latitude South Longitude East. Paris
Mayotte - - - - - - - - - - 12.30 - - - - - - 43
Nos-Beh - - - - - - - - - - 13 - - - - - - - 46
Ste Marie- - - - - - - - - - 17 - - - - - - - 48

Were it therefore possible for us to obtain this Letter from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorising us to avail ourselves with the number of young African boys and girls we presently require for our African Institutes in Verona, I would be able to scour the public markets of the Comores, Madagascar and other points on the East African coast, make a choice of the number of young Africans you long for, even if they were a thousand, and redeem them at the price established in the contract, which is between 50 and 100 francs for each individual. I could then present them to the Governor of one of the three islands, Mayotte, Nos-Beh or Ste Marie, so that they could be declared free and made French subjects. Thus equipped with regular French passports, I could bring them to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope on board the ships offered to me by the distinguished Signor Bonaventura Mas, who sends eight to ten vessels every year to Marseilles having laden them with cargo from the East Indies and the coasts of Africa.
Having examined and thoroughly pondered all this, I am quite clearly convinced that this channel I have described to you is a means indicated by Providence to ensure that our African Institutes in Verona may be supplied with the number of young Africans you desire in the space of one year. In this way we shall be able to compensate for the considerable loss of time that has continued for a number of years, during which it has proved impossible for our Missionaries to bring Africans into our Colleges in Verona for your Plan to be implemented. His positis: “I propose, Most Reverend Superior, to make an expedition to East Africa to redeem 100, or at least 50 individuals, male and female, for our African Institutes in Verona.”
With this in mind I intend to return shortly to Europe with those young people I was able to collect in Aden, so that I may discuss and arrange with you this most important affair, obtain the above-mentioned permit in Paris from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and prepare everything for the future expedition to East Africa, in the event that you approve of my thoughts on this matter.
In order to obtain the above-mentioned authorisation from the French Government, unless you are aware of better, quicker and easier means, I should think it best for me to introduce myself in person at the Central Councils for the Propagation of the Faith established in Lyons and Paris, or to one of their principal members, such as Mgr Coulin, equipped with my credentials as Apostolic Missionary issued in Rome by the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide and a letter from you. In this way I should easily be able to gain access to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs where, having candidly explained the purpose of our request, I have no doubt that our wishes would be fully satisfied.
On my return from Paris, I would stop in Marseilles to make arrangements with the Vidal Company, of which Signor Mas is a major partner, concerning the transport of the Africans to Europe. Once I get back to Verona, among the numerous things to be settled and which we can do verbally, there would be the question of giving me a priest companion from the Institute with whom to share the toils of this great expedition. On the one hand because, should either one of us die, the other could continue the work in the same spirit, and on the other, because, should events in East Africa require the use of two ships, two priests would be available to manage and guide the divided groups of young Africans.
The priest who would seem to me most suited among those who are in our Institute to be my companion in this arduous expedition is Fr Bartolomeo Clerici, a most determined priest with excellent judgement and virtues who is blessed with a robust constitution. He knows some Arabic and is quite used to dealing with Africans with whose character and nature he is familiar, and would thus be exceptionally helpful to me in selecting them. On his return to Verona he could join the most worthy Rector of the Male Colleges, Fr Francesco Bricolo, in directing the African College as Vice-Rector.
Apart from this excellent priest, it would be necessary for you, Fr Rector, to choose one of the women from the female Institutes who could see to the care, direction and needs of the young African girls we will be rescuing. Of course, she would need the following qualities: to be of proven morality, of canonical age, a lover of discretion, courageous, robust and as ugly as possible (like the ex-bursar Borgato, for instance); and this should be done even if an African woman who met your requirements were to be found, in accordance with your instructions before my departure from Verona.
As regards the financial arrangements required for this expedition, you must calculate the travel costs for the two priests and the mature lady, in addition to the cost of transporting the young African boys and girls back to Verona, the provision for 50 of them amounting to 5,000 thalers and the provision for 100 amounting to 8,000 thalers. In these amounts I also include a modest fee that could be charged by the Mas-Vidal Company for the passage of the Africans from the island of Madagascar to Marseilles, although Fr Giovenale da Tortosa, Prefect Apostolic of the Aden Mission assures and flatters me that, in view of the esteem and affection Signor Mas has for me (I do not know for what merits or qualities), I would not have to pay anything for their passage to France apart from their food. In any case, most beloved Superior, I think that you who have seen so many admirable aspects of divine Providence will hardly have to think about it at all.
Just gather all the money you can: and should it not please God to put together the amount sufficient for this great expedition, I shall not be dismayed. It is indeed not improbable that Providence will open us another way, which I am not communicating to you now since I have no time here to marshal the appropriate arguments to support it. Begin now, therefore, to put aside all the money that you may receive, and whatever you cannot give us when we leave I would have you send a few months later to the Institute of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, according to arrangements I shall make from Verona with the Superior General of this Order, resident in Rome, and with whom I have ties of most holy friendship.
As for the local language of the individuals we will rescue in East Africa, although it may not amount to much, during our stay there we shall make an effort, with the help of Providence, to acquire sufficient knowledge and command of it so as to introduce it in due course, if need be, in our Institutes.
Now, since among the sinister events that could arise to obstruct this plan it could happen that France, provoked by the constant abuses of the law promulgated in favour of its colonies, might withdraw the privilege of making engagés even in Mayotte, Nos-Beh and Ste Marie, as it did two years ago in the most flourishing of its colonies, the island of Bourbon which had previously enjoyed the same privileges as the other three islands, I therefore think that the planned expedition should be carried out as soon as possible before the foreclosure of this way of obtaining individuals for the formation in the African Institutes.
I would thus envisage starting the expedition to East Africa two or three months after my arrival in Europe. According to my reckoning everything should be accomplished in a year at most, during which, both in Canterane and in S. Carlo, accommodation could be prepared for us to welcome the people we shall be rescuing. It should preferably be separate from the other Institutes so as to enable the institution of a particular education specifically suited to the Missionary Plan for Central Africa.
In this way, by the spring or at latest by the summer of the following year 1862 we could envisage the establishment of two well-attended African Colleges in Verona, which should be seen as a prelude to the conversion of Africa. And so it will be no vain hope that the time we so yearn for will come, in which the brilliant ray of the divine light of Faith in Christ will be seen to shine forth in some of the tribes of the vast lands of the wretched Africans, who are bent under the power of Satan and still dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death.
There is no reason at all why, for the Central African Missions, which stretch from the Equator to the Tropic of Cancer, we should not recruit persons from the countries located between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator; since the climate, the character and educational abilities of all peoples born between the two Tropics are the same. In a similar way, the various local languages spoken by the different peoples of the two Tropics are not an obstacle; this difficulty has so far rightly been ignored because we are trying to provide young boys and girls of a tender age, as you wisely wish and command, from whom experience has shown excellent results may be obtained by means of wise and formal instruction.
Finally the very strict laws currently in force in Egypt prohibiting the exportation of young African boys and girls are no obstacle. To escape the artful and strict investigations of the police of the Egyptian state and the Consulates in Alexandria, I have thought of undertaking the arduous and very long voyage round the Cape of Good Hope and through the Atlantic Ocean with the intention of avoiding the risk of jeopardising the future success of the African Missions. If favourable times were to come, in which we were able to send Dinkas, Kich from the White Nile or natives from the Mission Stations we will be setting up in Central Africa to Europe, passing through Egypt now with a great crowd of Africans could make the governments issue even stricter laws than the existing ones, which would create a permanent obstacle to the pursuit of the sublime plan of creating African Institutes in Europe.
There you have, dearest Father, a brief explanation of the most efficient channel Providence has opened for us to ensure formation of the two African Colleges in Verona. There you have a skeleton outline of the means required for the benefit of the African Missions. In due course, with the enlightenments and circumstances the Lord will make known to us on the subject, we shall be able to make the appropriate adjustments. As far as I can see at the moment, it seems to me that God, for whom time does not exist, has allowed his great plan to be delayed because he does not need man’s work, despite the latter’s efforts; so it seems to me that God, without our concourse, has shown us the way to make up the lost time.
So, the more I meditate on the plan I have described to you, the more I see in it a Work through which great glory to God will derive and many souls will be won for Christ. For my part, therefore, I am ready to give up everything and to suffer the hardest fatigue and discomfort. Indeed, it would be very easy and sweet to sacrifice my blood and my life to co-operate in the accomplishment of this holy Work; providing of course, that you, Fr Superior, should want it.
Whether you approve it in all its breadth, disapprove in part or reject it entirely, you will always be the focal point of my aspirations and wishes, on whom I shall base all my actions; and I shall consider as the will of God anything you decide. Should it ever be that the plan I have proposed were a stupid idea that flashed through my mind, or a delirious hallucination, in that case I have the comfort of committing a most serious error, not in the eyes of the public which would be detrimental to the Institute and to its reputation, but in the eyes of my most beloved Father who, in my fall, can hold out his hand and raise me up.
I ardently beg you to send your fervent prayers to heaven that God alone may guide my steps and rule my actions so that I may faithfully respond to his divine illuminations and encouragement. As I implore your fatherly blessing, in all affection and veneration I declare myself in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

Your most obedient and unworthy son

Fr Daniel Comboni, Apostolic Missionary

Fr. Nicola Mazza
24. 1.1861
AMV, Cart. “Missione Africana”

Dearest Father Superior!

Aden, 24 January 1861
I am writing to let you know that I have chosen only five of the many individuals I have examined until now, about whom I have reliable information that they satisfy our Institute’s prerequisites. The Lord has granted them such compliance that we shall be able to make of them what we will. After learning the catechism in English, these five youngsters were baptised which is against Church law, because they were taught the English words of the catechism by an Irish soldier and only know it by rote, without at all understanding its meaning.
This is why I have started to study the rudiments of the Gallas’ tongue as best I can and I am endeavouring to teach them the principal mysteries of the catechism and the necessary truths with the aid of a smattering of Arabic, Gallas and Hindustani. I think the two young Gallas boys brought by the Carmelite Missionary will be in more or less the same state.
I reached Aden at a very critical moment, because of the present antagonism and conflict between the Prefect Apostolic of Aden and the Governor. Things have taken such a bad turn that either the Governor will have to leave or the Head of the Catholic Mission will be ousted. I made the most of the temporary absence of the Governor to beg from his substitute a passport for the five young men I had acquired. I explained to a full gathering the reasons why the English Government is obliged to protect the freedom of these individuals; but I only encountered cowardly indifference in the substitute and the officials. Finally yesterday the Governor, the bitterest enemy of Fr Giovenale, Prefect Apostolic in Aden, arrived from Bombay. When the matter had been explained, more from a civil than a religious point of view, I encountered so much kindness that they insisted on issuing me passports for any number I saw fit.
So today, I, who on principle had only requested two in order not to attract too much attention, presented all five and was issued the respective passports to Europe; indeed, he begged me to let him have one of them in order to take his photograph, since he is an ardent amateur photographer, and he then had him returned to the Mission for me.
The names of the five I have so far acquired are: Francesco Amam, Battista Ambar, Luigi Jèramo, Pietro Bullo, Giuseppe Eiànza. They are all from the tribe of the Gallas and will be appropriate for the White Nile Mission Stations, where I saw many members of this vast tribe that extends between the 7th and 13th degrees latitude north. With regard to the young black girls, to tell the truth, I will not be able acquire any now. I examined three, one of whom would have been suitable. But she does not want to come although her Portuguese masters, excited at the holiness of the work, would make the sacrifice of giving her tome. As far as I can see, it would not be right for me to be too insistent and it is therefore unlikely that I will bring any girl to Verona from Aden.
I shall stay here until I can be certain of whether or not I should take another two young men. I am waiting for the reports from the Bishop of the Island of Bourbon; and I will leave as soon as possible, unless it turns out that, if the sole Missionary and Prefect Apostolic is forced to leave, I will have to take on the sacred task of staying on for a while to carry out the duties of the Aden Mission until Propaganda sends someone else. Yesterday I explained the plan for an expedition in East Africa to you. During my stay in Aden I shall procure the most precise information and will make the necessary reports on this topic.
Until now I have been thinking of returning via Egypt; and in this case I count on being in Verona by mid-March. But perhaps I shall be granted the propitious opportunity of a French steamship which in the coming February will be passing through Aden, bound for Marseilles via the Cape of Good Hope: in this case, should I be able to establish a more profitable contract than the one via Egypt and Trieste, I would not be opposed to making the most of it since we would visit certain places where I could acquire information and see with my own eyes some islands where it might be possible to obtain Negroes. In a word, putting in at Bourbon Island, Madagascar or Mayotte I could acquire a few Africans and, what is more, make some practical preparations for the future expedition, if you agree that we make it.
I shall end now, because the steamer from Calcutta is leaving immediately for Suez. I hoped to be able to tell my most worthy Rector, Fr Bricolo, the grim tale of the taking of the Africans stolen by Abyssinian traders. But I shall do so with another steamer. I am upset because I have had no news either from you or from the Institute since my departure from Verona. Even if Fr Bricolo does not write to me, tell him nonetheless that I am and always will be faithful to my promises.
Please give my respects to the Bishop, to Fr Pietro Albertini, to Mgr Canossa, to Fr Cesare, to Uncle Paiola, to all the priests and members of the men’s and women’s Institutes, as well as to Mr and Mrs Bertoldi and Beppino, to Mr and Mrs Festa, to the parish priest of St. Eufemia, etc., etc., as with all my respects, I declare myself

Your most obedient son

Fr Daniel

N.B. I forgot to tell you that all five of the young men I have taken with me,

Fr. Nicola Mazza
2. 2.1861
AMV, Cart. “Missione Africana”

Very Reverend Father Superior!

Aden, 2 February 1861
This morning at 7.00 a.m. the Lord granted me the grace of solemnly baptising a young African woman, an adult of the Suakin tribe, situated on the Equator. She was a slave bought by a Spanish family in the Island of Zanzibar. When she arrived in Aden no one took an interest in her, although she had an excellent character and was in the care of a Catholic family. After I had vouched for this girl to the Prefect of Aden and to her owner, I was made responsible for instructing her; having thrown myself energetically into the task, in ten days Fr Prefect found her ready for Baptism which in obedience to his orders and to her supreme consolation, I myself administered to her this morning.
Today, at 4.00 p.m., I sailed from Aden with seven boys on a French frigate from China bound for Suez. Despite the antagonism that exists between the Head of the Catholic Mission of Aden and the English Governor, I was kindly received by the latter who also issued me a free pass for the last two boys. It seems that this Prefect Apostolic is preparing to leave Aden and take refuge in Jeddah, in Arabia. Lest I am obliged to stay in Aden until doomsday, that is, until Rome sends other Missionaries to replace the present Superior somewhat unjustly persecuted by the English Government, I took the propitious opportunity of a French Navy frigate’s passage to transport me and the seven boys. It would already have been difficult for me to acquire another.
I have with me seven good boys who are extremely docile, in this Prefect Apostolic’s opinion. Four of them are exceptionally gifted, the fifth is able and the other two are of average intelligence. I think they are all suited to your plan. I have tried to choose them according to your intentions. God will do the rest. Thus I shall arrive in Suez around the 10th, on board the Duchellas on which the French Ambassador to China is also travelling. In Cairo, interpreting your will, I shall ask the Pro-Vicar, Fr Matteo Kirchner, to let me have Zenab, the young girl about whom I have already written to you and who is thoroughly familiar with Arabic and the tongue of the Dinka. If I should fail on this occasion or on any other, I beg you to give me a good dressing down when I arrive, so that it will always be a norm for the future.
With regard to money, I have managed to obtain a loan of 60 pounds sterling, which is the equivalent of about 1,500 francs in addition to the loss of 88 francs on 75 gold Napoleons. In all, I have taken a loan of 317 and a half thalers, with the obligation to repay them immediately I arrive in Verona. I also thought it would be good to do this, so that I should not be financially responsible for the boys, given the poverty of the Catholic Mission in Aden.
I shall stay in Alexandria until the 20th of this month to iron out the difficulties I will encounter with the Turkish Government and the European Consuls, until I can make use of Russell’s powerful protection, which I procured from Lord Pope-Hennessy in Rome. I shall therefore certainly be in Verona at the end of this February. I request a go-ahead directly, in order to begin all the preparations for the expedition in East Africa, should you command it and approve the plan.
I hope you have received my letters in which I explained to you the most effective method of establishing two large African Institutes in Verona. Having expressed my thought (that is, what I felt appropriate in order to test and to discover his intentions) to His Excellency Henriot de Langle, Admiral of the French fleet of Bourbon Island and East Africa, he not only approved of it, but in the event that it should come to fruition, offered me his protection and assistance. From Aden to Suez I am travelling with the French Ambassador on his way back from China.
According to circumstances and the degree of trust he puts in me as well as the intentions I discover in him, I shall be able to find out about the permit we must obtain from the French minister of foreign affairs in order to make Engagés in the East African Islands under the dominion of that vast Empire. It goes without saying that as I do not for the moment know your wishes, I can go no further other than to obtain further clarifications. Please collect large sums for the Work that produces great glory for God! And Providence will take care of everything else. In the hope that I shall be seeing you within a month, please convey my respects to Fr Bricolo, all the priests, our special Gaetano, in S. Sebastiano; as I ask your holy blessing, I end with all my affection and veneration

Your most unworthy son

Fr Daniel

Fr. Nicola Mazza
18. 2.1861
AMV, Cart. “Missione Africana”

Most Reverend Father Superior!

Cairo, 18 February 1861
Because of a violent storm which held up the steamer, the Du Chayla, for nine consecutive days, the time it took us to sail from Aden to Suez, I did not arrive in time to see to all my affairs in Egypt and leave with this Austrian steamer for Trieste. I shall therefore wait for another Lloyd ship, which is what the Pro-Vicar, Fr Matteo, has also recommended. I need this 14-day interval to solve all the problems that will crop up in Alexandria; and among other things, for the important reason that the Lloyd agency has received orders from the minister in Vienna not to embark any Africans. The same is said with regard to the English and French ships. This is where my recommendations to the English Consul General will come in very handy.
I had the young men declare themselves English subjects, for the English Consul is obliged to protect the freedom of England’s subjects. However, I will only show the letter of English citizenship should grave obstacles arise, since I first intend to proceed in the ordinary way. In any case I need special divine assistance. Tomorrow I will make another visit with the Pro-Vicar to the Consul General of Alexandria who is in Cairo, to acquire recommendations for the Austrian Lloyd. This company, as Fr Biagio Verri who is a friend of Fr Olivieri tells me, will make no discount for Africans so I shall have to spend a great deal.
I have with me the seven Africans I brought from Aden, as well as Zenab, the Dinka girl who is helping Fr Beltrame to compile the dictionary, the catechism and the grammar book in the Dinka language. The Pro-Vicar replied with a firm negative to my first request; but after I had tackled him, once he had recovered from his convulsions and I had explained to him the good our Institute would derive from introducing the proper Dinka pronunciation through her, he decided to go along with me. I encountered a serious obstacle in the Superior of the nuns in Cairo who is devoted to her. But at last she is now available for me. So let our teachers get ready to study Dinka.
To take these eight individuals as far as Verona, I will need 500 thalers since they are not making me any discount; and I only have 300 which I borrowed in Aden. Father Superior, if you have not already sent me some money, I ask that should you receive this letter before the 25th of the month you send me 50 gold Napoleons to the Cavaliere Napoli in Trieste, asking him, if it arrives in time, to send them to me in Alexandria by the ship that sails on the 27th. Should this letter arrive after the 25th, send the 50 Napoleons to Cavaliere Napoli before 5thMarch, asking him to give them to me on my arrival in Trieste. If you have already sent money to Alexandria, then do not worry and expect me in Verona before the middle of March. In any case, Providence exists and I will manage.
The Austrian Consul General in Alexandria, back from Aswan, told me this morning that Fr Beltrame and Fr Dalbosco are well and he gave me a packet of letters for you, to take to Verona. Since today we decided with the Pro-Vicar to wait for the other ship; tomorrow I will take the packet to the Consul who will personally send them to the Lieutenancy in Venice, thus they are more certain to reach your hands. Until now I have found much to comfort me in the young men I chose. I hope that God himself guided the negotiations.
Give my regards to Fr Bricolo and all the priests and members of the College. As I implore your blessing, in the Sacred Hearts of J. and M., I declare myself with due respect

Your most affectionate and unworthy son

Fr Daniel

Kind regards from Fr Matteo Kirchner who will soon be going to Aswan. N.B. The Consul General of Austria in Alexandria, his Excellency Schreiner, has obtained permission from His Highness the Viceroy of Egypt to build a railway from Suakin to Berber which will link the Red Sea to the Nile and the White River. This will be a fine contribution to the civilisation and conversion of Africa. May God will it.