PLAN FOR THE REGENERATION OF AFRICA
(from the writings of St. Daniel Comboni)
The Holy Father, to whom I have presented my plan, is very pleased with it and blesses it. As he said, he wants all the forces involved to wage a general battle in order to tackle head-on the Christianisation of Africa “viribus unitis”. It seems to me that the plan I submitted to Barnabò is well designed for this purpose. Naturally, once I have heard the opinions and deliberations of the individual societies and formed a precise idea of the conditions in Africa and particularly of the situation in the different mission points, I will adjust my plan accordingly. When the first steps will eventually be taken with the help and advice of many experts, God will then undoubtedly show us the right way for the regeneration of Africa. I consulted many members of the Council, many old Missionaries, a few Bishops and the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyons. They all knew about my Plan. Finally I found the answer to this enigma, which is quite simple. The Seminary for the African Missions was founded by Bishop Bresillac, ex-Vicar Apostolic of Comboïtur in the Indies, and entrusted to Mgr Planque, who is Vicar Apostolic of Dahomey in West Africa. The Plan of Planque and the late Bishop (who died half-way with all his Missionaries) includes the project of penetrating Central Africa from the West. My Plan opposes the idea of rushing into the centre, as other Missions have done, and instead establishes the principle of the regeneration of Africa by Africa. The venerable letter Your Eminence deigned to send me in Lyons contains three points. 1. My Plan for the regeneration of Africa presents many difficulties as regards its implementation. 2. It is necessary for the Superiors of the various Missions to the African Coasts to unite and make the Plan for Central Africa. 3. Anew Committee does not appear to be necessary or useful. On the basic premise that I accept Your Most Reverend Eminence’s judgement with sincere veneration and absolute submission, I take advantage of your supreme bounty, which inspires courage and true confidence, and make so bold as to express a few brief observations. In my humble opinion, I am convinced that it would be more appropriate for someone who has toiled a few years in Central Africa and has more secure knowledge of the true conditions in those remote lands to present a Plan for the Regeneration of Africa. In such a case, before Propaganda decides anything, I see no objection to the various Superiors of the African coastal Missions being invited to examine the Plan for the regeneration of the Central African people. It is certain that by contributing their insights and observations which are the fruit of a long experience of the African race, they will throw great light on such a difficult problem and perhaps provide the safest method for an effective implementation. I am certain that Your Eminence will be so kind as to put up with this open expression of my opinion. This is an outline of what I wish to submit to Your Most Reverend Eminence’s judgement. It is what appears to me as most advantageous in the effort to do more for the Africans. It seems to me that the Plan, thus conceived, is simpler than before. Should Your Most Reverend Eminence’s wise judgement not deem it appropriate to approve the substantial modifications of the Plan, I will bless the Lord and redouble my efforts to meditate and think up a simpler and more feasible Plan. The problem I am attempting to solve is certainly extremely difficult: but when I think that until now the Church has had only rather poor consolations from Africa, and that the African race is the most unfortunate in the world, and that the more time passes the more the regeneration of Africa will become difficult, then I know that no torment will shake me, no labour discourage me, no difficulty stop me; even death would be dear tome if it might be of some use to the Africans. May God inspire Your Most Reverend Eminence to decree that which is most beneficial to the undertaking.
In my mind I have formulated my Plan as follows: The principle remains that of surrounding Africa with small Institutes of African boys and girls under the jurisdiction of the Vicars and Prefects Apostolic for the training of evangelical workers of all kinds who are to advance step by step into the regions of Central Africa to establish the Faith there. The principle is also established that each Superior should train and educate the African boys and girls in his own way, according to the spirit of his own Institute and without any interference from anyone. It seems to me that it would be useful to set up a select Committee (may God will that it be made up of individuals drawn from the Orders or Congregations to which the Missions are entrusted!) made up of men of great initiative, with the aim of deploying in Africa’s interest all Catholicism’s means, which are currently lacking, for the regeneration of Africans and of developing existing resources to this end. Should it prove impossible for the time being to set up this Committee in Rome or Paris, I shall try to associate myself with two or three priests and we will set to work little by little on one spot. We shall form the Committee. The Holy Childhood Association and the Society for the Schools of the East have promised me their assistance for every foundation in Africa. Following a letter from Cardinal Barnabò to the Bishop of Amiens, ordering him to concert with me for the foundation of the Association for the Slaves, under Mgr Massaia’s guidance I have arranged for the first attempts to be made in Spain. For this purpose, the Bishop of Amiens will make available the holy priest Capella, who will soon be taking the initiative under the auspices of the Archbishop of Tarragona. I hope the Association will be founded within two years. Nearly all the funds from this Association are destined for the projected Plan for the regeneration of Africa. The Work I am about to found, and that I hope to start already this year with the erection of two great Apostolic Vicariates in Central Africa, which the Holy See will open following my Plan for the Regeneration of Africa, and that I will consecrate to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, links up closely with the Society of the Guard of Honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of which you are the fervent instigator. You see, dear Sister what an intimate union there must be between you and me. It is for this reason that I shall keep you informed of all the progress made by this great Work which must also be yours, as yours is mine. Recommend this Work to the members so as to propagate prayer for the conversion of Africa, as I shall promote the Society of the Guard of Honour of the Sacred Heart, not only in Africa, but in the whole world. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be with us and may we be faithful and joyful in consecrating our lives for the sake of his Glory. As soon as I have had my Plan for the Regeneration of Africa printed in French I shall send it to you: I want you to know it to multiply the prayer intentions. His Eminence Cardinal De Angelis, Archbishop of Fermo relegated to Turin, who at the 1846 Conclave received the most votes, after Pius IX, in the Papal election, told me: “If you have placed your Work under the protection of the Sacred Heart, fear not: you will succeed”. The ardent love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will burn up the paganism and the fetishism of the African race and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will be built. However, hoping to introduce the Society of the Guard of Honour of the Sacred Heart in the Slav countries, please send me in Rome a diploma of Special Director of the Society for the Very Reverend Fr Vicenzo Basile of the Society of Jesus, a famous missionary who has spent 25 years in the Slav countries, so that he may introduce the devotion and the Society in those vast lands. I just have an opportunity to send mail to Italy and I seize it to write you a couple of lines which together with my most affectionate greetings will also bring you news of our missions. I am delighted to be able to tell you that it has been possible to do something about implementing the Plan published in the Museum last year, in other words to attempt the regeneration of Africa through Africa itself. In accordance with the wishes of His Eminence the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda, I accompanied Fr Ludovico da Casoria, the most worthy founder of the Institute which can be admired in the Palma Convent in Naples, where hundreds of African boys and girls are brought up in the Christian civilisation and religion.