Libermann reached out to Westminster

Libermann reached out to Westminster

A letter from Francis Libermann to Bishop Nicholas Wiseman of Westminster

Shortly before the fusion of Libermann’s young foundation with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, he was increasingly worried about the isolation of Fr. Jacques Laval on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. By this time, Mauritius was a British colony and French missionaries were not admitted there by the government. In this letter, Libermann begs the leader of the Catholic Church in this country to use his influence to have the ban lifted. Slavery had recently been abolished in the island, but the condition of the ex-slaves was now even worse than before.

Despite our researches in this country, we have not come across any reply to this letter.

 

 

To the Bishop of Westminster

May 24th, 1848

My Lord Bishop,

For a long time I have been aware of your dedication to the works of God through your publications and reputation, so I am taking the liberty of soliciting your help for a Mission that is of great importance for the salvation of a large number of souls who have been hitherto neglected. I trust that you will forgive my intrusion upon your time when you have heard the reasons behind my initiative.

I am the head of a Community of priests who are totally devoted to the salvation of the black race. We were founded seven years ago and God has blessed our efforts in setting up our Society. We are not yet officially approved by the Holy See because I felt that the time had not yet arrived to take such a step, but we have been greatly encouraged by the Propaganda in Rome, which treats us as any other Congregation.

Having explained in a couple of words who we are, I would now like to outline the dilemma in which we find ourselves. We have three priests of our Congregation on the island of Mauritius, working exclusively for the black people. The first to go there was Fr. Laval, who travelled with Bishop Collier, the Vicar Apostolic of the island. On arrival, he found about 20 black people living the Christian life and although he was alone for the first five years, he managed to build up a good and fervent group of Christians as your Lordship can see from the attached sheet. The second priest has been there for about a year and the third for only a few months.

Fr. Laval is the only one of these three priests who has been authorised to stay by the Government and he alone is in receipt of a salary. Bishop Collier tried very hard to get permission for some other priests to join Fr. Laval, both at the level of the local Government and the authorities in London. But all his efforts were in vain, because the local Government was opposed to any French priests settling in the island. However, over the last two years, the Governor has softened his attitude. He agreed that another could join Fr. Laval on condition that he renew this permission every three months. Recently, the Governor allowed a third priest to join them and gave the second permission to stay for a year. This has given us some hope, and this is why I am now seeking your help.

If we cannot get more help from the British Government, we will not be able to increase the number of missionaries for the island, because even the three of them can scarcely survive on the salary that Fr. Laval receives. To get around these difficulties, I have been trying to attract some English and Irish ecclesiastics into our Congregation, but as we have no base in England, all our efforts have come to nothing. To make things even worse, Fr. Laval is exhausted and will not be able to carry on much longer without additional help; if he should die, it would be the end of the Mission to the black people of Mauritius because his confreres rely totally on his salary for their subsistence.

So for the future of this mission, it is urgent:

  • That we obtain permission from the British Government for some French priests to work in Mauritius. If necessary, they would be ready to seek British naturalisation; having given ourselves totally to the salvation of those in the Mission, we are ready to give up everything for the glory of God and the good of these abandoned souls, for which our congregation was founded.

  • That we receive some financial help, such as free passages on English ships and a salary, not just for one missionary but for three or four, thereby allowing us to support a sufficient number for the evangelisation of the whole island.

If the Government refuses to take on such expenses, we would ask them to transfer the salary currently received by Fr. Laval to another priest if he is unable to continue in his ministry.

We would also like a certain number of priests from Savoy and Belgium to be given a residence permit for Mauritius; if this were authorised, we would have enough priests to run the Mission within three years. As regards French priests, it would be sufficient to have permission for the three priests who are already in Mauritius and for a fourth to make up their number.

These are the needs of the Mission for which I am asking your Lordship’s support and assistance. I know that even if prudence prevents you from helping us, you will pardon me for having made this appeal to you. I also thought that if you were unable to help us personally, you could perhaps ask some leading Catholics to use their influence with the Government for this beautiful but unfortunate Mission.

If present circumstances prevent you from helping us, perhaps you would be so kind as to give me some advice on the best way to approach the British Government so that we can be at least partially successful in obtaining what we need. I am not sufficiently conversant with the methods and procedures of this government to know what to do and how to do it.

Once again, My Lord, please forgive my temerity in approaching you. I can assure you that there was no other motive behind my request than the glory of God and the desire to save this Mission.

 

I remain your respectful servant,

F. Libermann, Superior.

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