Cardinal Lavigerie's Work in North Africa

WHEN, last year, the present writer made a journey throughout French Barbary, — that is, from the frontiers of Morocco to the eastern Tunisian littoral, and by the routes of the Sahara as well as through the hill regions of Kabylia, he took particular note of the great work done, and being done, by the “ White Army, founded, organized, and for so many years sustained by the late Cardinal Lavigerie.

The rumor of the great deeds of this indomitable soldier of the cross has spread throughout the civilized world ; but neither in America nor in Great Britain is the story of his career and his achievement in Africa adequately recognized. Indeed, there seems to be an idea current that with his death the “ redemption of Islam ” lapsed from a grand crusade to a disorganized, casual, and generally futile missionism.

As a matter of fact, the “ White Fathers ” are to-day a better organized, better directed, and more influential body than they were In those first years of hardship and fiery ardor which were the outcome of the passionate eloquence and not less passionate zeal and enthusiasm of the Archbishop of Algiers. It is true that visitors to Algiers and Tunis — and it is surprising how relatively small is the number of those who go further afield in Algeria or Tunisia than to these picturesque and popular cities, and their kindred smaller towns along the Barbary coasts, from Oran to Susa — may see little or nothing of the “ Army of the Sahara : ” perhaps, unless at Carthage itself, even hear little of the doings of the White Fathers. But the moment the Sahara is reached, even that hither portion of it called the Ziban, to the south of the province of Constantine, the most casual visitor must have his attention drawn to these Catholic missionaries who have done, and are doing, so important a work in Northern Africa. Throughout French Barbary there is now no place, after Algiers, - not even “ Flemçen the Beautiful ” nor “ Constantine the Magnificent,” — so much resorted to as Biskra, Biskra-el-Nokkel, as the Arabs call it, Biskra of the Palms. At this oasis town, deservedly termed the Queen of the Sahara, there is a large and important station of Cardinal Lavigerie’s White Fathers. There every one who is interested may see and hear for himself, and there, as a matter of fact, as well as at Carthage and elsewhere, the writer of this paper learned much concerning the recent work accomplished, and the new work projected, by this indomitable missionary brigade.

Twenty centuries ago Cato thrilled his Roman hearers with his “ Delenda est Carthago.” In our own day, a missionary priest of Rome replied triumphantly, “ Instauranda Carthago.” The enthusiastic prelate, who came from a bishop’s see in France, was, in a sense, on native soil when he reached the desolate heights tenanted only of a few fanatical Arabs or wandering Bedouins ; for there one of his heroes, St. Louis the king, had come to die ; there the saintly Monica had won Augustine to the militant faith of which he was to become one of the foremost champions in Christendom ; there Tertullian, a kindred spirit in most respects, was born.

From this spot that was a Phœnician city before Rome came into existence, from this seat of a power that held dominion for seven centuries, from this grass-grown waste that for a thousand years had been as obliterate as the site of Troy, has come in our time a voice of quickening, of regeneration, that may recreate in Africa not only a mighty state politically, but what Lavigerie himself loved to call, prophetically, a potent-realm in the empire of the world.

It may be as well to give here a few words concerning the beginning of the great cardinal’s mission in Africa, and about “ New Carthage ” as he in part constituted it. Of that unfulfilled New Carthage, which he projected with so much eagerness and with so many sanguine expectations, and of which he dreamed to the end of his days, I need say nothing at present. Though he wished it to become the Christian capital of the Orient and the south, the immediate results of his great scheme would be rather for the consideration of the politician, the military and naval specialist, the merchant, the agriculturist, and, let me add, the humanitarian.

The assertion frequently made, that Cardinal Lavigerie was the first person to erect a Christian structure on the site of Carthage, is a mistake. More than fifty years ago, a chapel dedicated to the memory of St. Louis was built on the summit of the Byrsa, with its front to that beautiful bay where, since the days of Phœnician galleys and Roman triremes, for hundreds of years the sloops of the Barbary corsairs had come and gone with their cargoes of Christian slaves. Eleven years previously (that is, in 1830), M. Mathieu de Lesseps, the father of the famous Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was French consul at Tunis in the reign of Charles X. and in the first part of that of Louis Philippe, had obtained from the reigning Bey the cession to France of a small section of land on the Maälaka, the ridge to the eastward of the Arab village of SidiBou-Saïd ; in other words, on that part of the heights where ancient Carthage stood, and on the very spot where, according to tradition, “the pious monarch” expired. Hussein-Bey, however, granted no more than a nominal cession, and it was not till 1841 that the memorial chapel was actually built, to the displeasure of the Tunisian populace, but, strangely enough, to the content of the Arabs of Sidi-Bou-Saïd and La Marsa, who, as a matter of fact, had already, in their own fashion, canonized the saintly king, and had for generations revered him as a holy prince who had been converted to the religion of Mahomet, and had come to Africa to die a Moslem. All reminiscence of the fact that six hundred years ago King Louis landed on these shores as a crusader, and that his army was defeated before Tunis, seems to have faded.

I found this legend still extant among the Arabs of that region, and it may interest many readers to know that not only is a Christian king revered as a Moslem saint, but that, on what was the western side of ancient Carthage, there is a mosque dedicated to the worship of Jesus. I asked an Arab of Sidi-BouSaïd if it were ancient or modern. He smiled gravely, having guessed that I imagined it to be due to the influence of Cardinal Lavigerie’s White Fathers, and replied that long before the coming of the Christian moulai, long before any Christians trod the soil of Tunis save as slaves, a mosque had there been dedicated to the worship of Jesus. In response to my further question if the Sidi-Issa were identical with the Jesus whom we revere as the Christ, the Arab answered affirmatively; adding that in Allah’s eyes the Sidi-Issa was a prophet even as Mahomet himself, and sent to earth, too, with a divine mission, though both prophet and mission were secondary to the supreme servant of God, Mahomet.

From one of Cardinal Lavigerie’s White Fathers I learned that the name Sidi - Bou - Saïd, designating the Arab village on Cape Carthage, more exactly El-Zaouia-es-Sidi-Bou-Saïd, does not signify, as sometimes translated, “ My lord the father of Said or Saeeda; ” which would be meaningless in relation to St. Louis, even if the fantastic derivation of a French writer were tenable, that Saeeda was the lingual Arabic equivalent of the name of the French king ! Bou means “ possessor of ” as well as “father,” and Saïd or Saeeda is probably Saädu, “ happiness. ” When St. Louis was, as the Arabs suppose, converted to the true faith, he might well have been alluded to as “My lord the possessor of Happiness : ” hence, after the foundation of a mosque or holy retreat in his honor, the village which grew around the Zaouia came to be known as that of Sidi-BouSaäda. It is only in French and English maps and books that the name is spelled Saïd, or Saveed, or Saïda.

This chapel of St. Louis was in existence, then, before Archbishop Lavigerie became Primate of Africa, and anterior to his translation from the see of Nancy. The other buildings in the neighborhood are more recent, with the exception of the Mohammedan marabout of SidiSaleh. These are, besides the cathedral, — where the body of the great cardinal now rests, in a tomb built and consecrated by himself long before his death, — a small chapel, Notre Dame de la Meliha, for the use of Maltese residents in Tunis and La Goletta and for Maltese sailors ; a Carmelite convent ; a college of the White Fathers and the ordinary priests of the diocese; and the invaluable museum inaugurated by Cardinal Lavigerie, but formed, organized, and supervised by the Rev. Père Louis Delattre, the chaplain of St. Louis, and himself one of the Pères Blancs d’Afrique, — a priest, archæologist, scholar, and man of the world, to whom many visitors to Carthage owe a great debt of pleasure and instruction.

At the Maison Carrée at Algiers, at St. Louis of Carthage, at the Seminaire of the White Fathers at Biskra in the Sahara, one may learn all that is needful for an outsider to know concerning the special training, mission, and actual work achieved by the famous “desert brigade.”

In connection with the chapel of Notre Dame de la Meliha I may mention here a suggestive incident which I heard in Tunis. One day, the cardinal, overborne by mental fatigue, anxiety, and disappointment, went into the chapel to rest and pray. There was no one else present, and after a time his head fell forward on his breast and he was sound asleep. Waking suddenly, he beheld an extraordinary light upon the painted windows representing St. Augustine, his mother St. Monica, and St. Cyprian. This light did not come from the glow of the sun, but was full upon them as though cast from a great lamp. He turned, and beheld standing in front of the altar a figure which he recognized as that of St. Nymphanion, the first recorded martyr of Christian Carthage.1 The saint spoke; but all he said was, “ Mon frère en Jésus-Christ notre Seigneur.” That, however, meant that the first martyr of the Church in Carthage hailed one who also was to die there in martyrdom, though not a martyr under direct tyranny, but beneath the weight of toil and anxiety and long endurance and the sickness of ever-deferred hope. The weary cardinal arose, either to advance to do obeisance before St. Nymphanion, or to assure himself of the verity of his vision, when the saint, turning and pointing to the south, and making a gesture with his arms as though embracing all from the east and from the west, suddenly disappeared.

Lavigerie went forth deeply impressed. He believed he had been vouchsafed a vision that portended not only his own death during the carrying out of his schemes for the Church in Africa, but also the success of his great mission for the redemption of the Moslem world, — all that vast world which lay eastward and westward and away to the limitless south from Carthage. As, the story goes, the vision came at a time when, for political as well as other reasons, it was thought advisable at Rome and at Paris that the cardinal and his White Fathers should, so far as missionary work was concerned, keep themselves in obscurity for a time, the African Primate believed he had been given a sign from heaven that he was to persevere in his projects at all hazards. The incident is one that might well have happened to enthusiasts of a nature different from that of Cardinal Lavigerie ; but by those who knew that prelate personally it will be received with caution, if not with actual incredulity. Charles Lavigerie was a dreamer, it is true, but he dreamed along the line of his temperament; and that temperament was an essentially Latin one, direct, logical, unmystical, untranscendental. Moreover, it is only fair to add that his friend and fellow-worker, Pore Louis Delattre, knew nothing of the legend. What is of more moment is that which lies within the region of indisputable fact, though the actuality be that of intention, not of accomplishment. One dream of the cardinal’s, not hitherto made public, was to establish a series of cathedral churches all along the African coast from Carthage to Cherchel (the ancient Iol of Juba) and to Tangier itself, and to dedicate them severally to the great men and women associated with the early history of the Church in Africa, — SS. Cyprian and Augustine, Tertullian, SS. Felicitas, Monica, and Perpetua, first and foremost. Another dream was the establishment in his own lifetime of Arab villages throughout Tunisia and the three immense provinces of Algeria, similar to the Christian Arab communities of St. Monica and St. Cyprian which he had founded near Algiers about 1875-76. Again, he believed in a vast extension of his White Fathers brigade, so that among its missioners should be men of all races, including Africans born Pagan or Mohammedan, Europeans, Maltese, Arabs, Kabyles, Soudanese, negroes, — ay, even Bedouins, if practicable. But perhaps the dearest scheme for fulfillment in his own time, though one to which, so far as I have been able to ascertain, no one of his biographers or commentators has devoted much, if any attention, was the redemption of Arab Africa through the conversion of the Kabyle nation, - that original Berber race which is now practically restricted to the mountainous regions of Algeria. The Kabyles are to North Africa what the Celtic Highlanders are to Scotland, an unmixed and indigenous, if not probably autochthonous people ; distinct from the dominant race in communal rule, in social habits, in language, in appearance, in character, and even in religion. The Kabyle has really almost as little in common with the sedentary Moor of cities as with the Arab of the desert. He holds himself aloof from both, and rarely, if ever, marries with either; while with pride, and not without justification, he maintains that he has been subdued and hemmed in, but never conquered. The strong ancient Roman admixture in his blood has affected not only his color and features and physique, but even his institutions, generally crude and always barbaric as these are. On the other hand, though the sedentary Arabs and nomad tribes and town Moors respect the integrity and energy, and above all the dauntless courage of the Kabyles, they look down upon them as a barbarous and savage race, — much as the Scottish Lowlanders and the English soldiers regarded the Highland clans in the old Jacobite days.

It was with this unpromising material that Cardinal Lavigerie hoped to create a nation of missioners, a native army of the cross. “ Let loose Kabylia,” he would exclaim, “ and in a few years Mohammedan North Africa will be Christian.” The idea was pooh-poohed, even when an initial success was secured, and missions took root here and there throughout the African highlands ; but so little was the Primate supported, even by his ecclesiastical following, that he ceased to say much about his treasured scheme in public, though to the day of his death he believed in it as one of the likeliest and surest means at hand for the accomplishment of the Gallicization as well as the moral and spiritual amelioration of the native races of North Africa.

The story of how he began this crusade, and of the characteristic way in which he approached “the unapproachable Kabyles,” has been told by an eminent English member of the Society of Jesus, from the narrative of one who accompanied the cardinal on the occasion in question. The expedition was undertaken at a time when no Christian was safe unless well armed and well escorted.

In the preceding year (1875), three devoted priests, who had won the esteem and admiration of the Arabs of the desert, started on a mission towards Timbuktû ; but a long distance from that city, their bodies, beheaded, were found in the sands of the Sahara. The ferment occasioned by the French, occupation of Tunis had wrought the whole of North Africa to a state of feverish hostility. When this had apparently abated, three Other missioners went forth to the interior, this time under a special guarantee from the Arabs; but when scarcely a day’s march from Ghadames all three were treacherously murdered.

It was at this juncture that Cardinal Lavigerie decided to press forward the evangelization of Kabylia, as there seemed so much more hope of apostolic work among a people who for centuries had maintained their independence against the heavy yoke of Islam, and even now for only a few generations have been Moslem in faith. Soon after his first arrival in Algiers, as archbishop he had paid a visit to such mountain districts of Kabylia as were practicable, and he had then made up his mind that la grande Kabylie should in good time become a Christian country, and be an example to the rest of North Africa.

As the small pioneer expedition which he led made its way among the hill villages that were not openly hostile, the members saw the women and old people watching them with mingled alarm and curiosity, and often with angry resentment. If a child were met, it darted away screaming. The reason for this was that the Kabyles told their children, in order to keep them from giving information to or having any communication with the French, that the Christians were a race of human demons, who live on raw flesh, and have a particular fancy for appetizing tidbits in the shape of children. The expedition reached an important village, writes one of those who accompanied the archbishop, where it had reason to believe its reception would be respectful. “ We went thither on foot, for the steep mountain paths are, as may well be imagined, quite impassable for carriages ” (and Lavigerie, at this time, it must be remembered, was not only advanced in years, but was in delicate health, and subject to a painful malady). “ After interminable windings among rocks, valleys, and trees, we came in sight of the village whither we were bound, standing on a slight eminence. The archbishop had announced his visit beforehand, and at the entrance to the village all the men, headed by its venerable patriarch, were assembled to receive him in a house entirely open on the side which looked on to the road. The women and children were perched on all imaginable places, — the ledges of the rocks, the roofs of the houses, every spot which afforded standing-room, where human feet could climb or human limbs could rest. Mgr. Lavigerie was in full canonicals, and was surrounded by the priests belonging to his suite. When he arrived within a short distance of the village, the men advanced solemnly in a body to meet him and bid him welcome. The aged patriarch who preceded them was the amin, or mayor ; the others were his council ; for the Kahyles have retained a municipal form of government, after the model of the Roman, with public assemblies and popular elections.

“The building mentioned above was the forum, or, as they call it here, the djemmaä, a kind of town hall, the meeting-place of all the male inhabitants of an age to carry arms. There affairs of local or general interest are discussed, transfer of land is effected, and all business of a civic or political nature transacted.

“The amin approached, the archbishop, and with a stately and dignified gesture laid his hand lightly on his vestment, and then raised it respectfully to his lips.

“ ‘ May the blessing of God be with you all! 1 the archbishop said ; and with one voice they all responded, ‘ May it be also with thee! ’

“ We then proceeded to the djemmaä. Against the two walls on the right and on the left were rows of stone seats, rising one above another, like the tiers of an amphitheatre. The place of honor was assigned to Mgr. Lavigerie; then each one took a seat where he pleased.

“ 4 I have come to see you,’ the archbishop began, addressing the amin, ‘ to show my affection for you.’ (Here all present simultaneously laid their hands, first on their heart, and then on their forehead.) 4 I have reason to love you, for we French are related to you; the same blood runs in our veins. Our forefathers were Romans, in part at least, as were yours ; we are Christians, as you too once were. Look at me. I am a Christian bishop. Well, in days gone by there were more than five hundred bishops like me in Africa, all Kabyles, many of them illustrious men, distinguished for their learning. All of your people once were Christians, but the Arabs came and ruthlessly slaughtered your bishops and priests, and compelled your ancestors to adopt their creed. Do you know all this ? ’

“ A very voluble correspondence took place among the audience ; then the amin replied : —

“ ‘ Yes, we know it; but you speak of a time long past. Our grandfathers have told us these things ; but as for ourselves, we have seen nothing of them.'

41 After this preamble, Mgr. Lavigerie spoke most earnestly, and at the same time with the most scrupulous tact and common sense, and urged the Kabyles present at least to ponder carefully his arguments. If they would do so, he felt assured, he added, they could not fail to see what immense gainers they would be in every way, though primarily in the spiritual heritage into which they would straightway enter. It is pleasant to know that a large section of this particular village, as well as other communities throughout Kabylia, ultimately became Christian, and are at this day among the most prosperous of the native inhabitants.”

Cardinal Lavigerie, however, would be the last person to wish for himself or his White Fathers the whole credit of that initial enterprise which has had results so remarkable. Before lie had set foot in Africa, the Jesuit Fathers of the province of Lyons (which then included Algeria) had successfully established two missions in Kabylia : one among the warlike and powerful Beni-Yenni, the other at an important Kabyle centre, DjemmaSaharidj. At the same time, these Jesuit missions were intended to be stationary, their directors laying stress on the belief that settled quarters would appeal to the natives more than proselytizing peregrinations. So slight was their influence beyond their immediate vicinage that when Mgr. Lavigerie sent into Kabylia Father Deguerry and two companion priests, these missionaries could find no shelter throughout the cold of the winter months, — and a bitter nocturnal cold it is at these high altitudes, as the present writer can vouch, even when the heat on the lowlands is semi-tropical. — but had to rest each night on the bleak earth ; nor was it till after the third month of this and other wearing hardships that the White Fathers were allowed to build a house, though even this tardy grace was conditional on their undertaking to elect the dwelling by their own hands.

From what I saw in Kabylia, I feel sure that the good work inaugurated by Mgr. Lavigerie can hardly be overestimated. That unfortunate and ungenerous tendency to depreciate all his efforts, and to discount even his apparent success, which has done so much harm to a good cause, and in some quarters imposed itself upon the minds of responsible governmental officials, is not easily to be refuted on paper. To all statistics, arguments, or statements, his adversaries, far less active now, reply by affirming that he and his emissaries have been firebrands to excite a conquered but forever irreconcilable race ; that Christianity is unsuited for the Arab, with his inherited fatalism, and his domestic, social, and communal habits and instincts ; and that an amalgam of the Arab and the Christian ideals is as impossible as a racial blend of Arab and European.2

The French official mind is antagonistic to the spread of religious teaching, and particularly to all teaching or movements of any kind independent of governmental red - tapism. The opposition Cardinal Lavigerie had to encounter, apart from that connected with international jealousies, bureaucratic stiff-neckedness, and military and social suspiciousness, if not actual hostility, was so manysided that it is still a marvel to those who are familiar with the main drift of his circumstances that he was able not only to confront them so undauntedly and so perseveringly, but to surmount them, and even, sometimes, to turn them into involuntary allies.

It will, however, interest many readers to know that this mission work in Kabylia, as indeed elsewhere throughout Franco-Moslem territories, is due even more to the Sisters of Our Lady of African Missions than to the indefatigable and unselfish labors of the White Fathers, praiseworthy and resultant in innumerable good works as the efforts of these apostolic emissaries have been and are. Here again a great debt is due to Cardinal Lavigerie, though one overlooked by most visitors to Algeria, and for the most part ignored by those in authority.

What with the Christian Arab villages of St. Cyprian and St. Monica, and more recent kindred communities, orphanages, training schools, training colleges, for youths of every race, native and foreign, refuges for Arab women, sisterhoods for educational and nursing purposes, nunneries for shelter for those who need a haven, and wish to combine the life of religious devotion with that of self-sacrifice, seminaries for the education and physical training of novices intended for missionary work, and various institutions of a more secular kind, — patriotic, colonial, archæological, agricultural, and even in connection with the military and naval services,—the name of Cardinal Lavigerie is in truth of so paramount importance in association with North Africa that he deserves not only to be ranked with his most famous apostolic predecessors, St. Cyprian and St. Augustine, but to be revered as one of the greatest blessings bestowed upon a young and weak Church in its marvelous renascence, as one of the truest patriots whom France has produced, and, with General Gordon, as one of the noblest and most single-hearted missioners who have added imperishable lustre to our feverish and perplexed age.

It is no wonder that the extent both of the civilizing work and the civilizing influence due to Cardinal Lavigerie’s women missioners should have impressed the present writer, as indeed all observant and unbiased visitors to French Africa. Perhaps the very fact that so little recognition has been made of this section of his labors, and that in Algeria itself the recognition, when given at all, is either somewhat grudging or concurrently depreciatory, enabled me to realize at first hand how remarkable is this accomplishment even as it stands.

On his elevation to the see of Algiers, — to be more exact, on his voluntary and self-sacrificing transfer thither from his wealthier and more comfortable see of Nancy, — Mgr. Lavigerie almost from the first foresaw the need of women missionaries to carry out his schemes of evangelization and social and domestic regeneration. His plans were regarded dubiously even by many of his fellowbishops and higher clergy, and a large section of the public openly protested against the idea of Christian women being sent into regions where their honor would not be safe for a day. Moreover, as many military and civil authorities prophesied, the Arab would regard with disdain mixed with deep resentment the apparent effort to convert or reform him or his through the agency of women.

The archbishop had that supreme quality of genius, controlled impatience. To adopt an apparent paradox, he knew how to be patiently impatient. He admitted that the moment was not ripe, but he asserted that it was ripening. His arguments were irrefutable, and he promised that practice should not belie theory. Within a quarter of a century, he is said to have declared once to his Holiness the late Pope, “French Africa will be civilized by women.”

From the moment he explained publicly the need for women missioners, volunteers were ready. It was obviously true what he said, that in no other way could Mohammedan women be reached. A radical alteration in the domestic, social, intersexual, and religious views of the women would mean an inevitable change of front for the coming generation, male and female ; while the allround results would at once be quicker, more thorough, and more far reaching than through the agency of men.

The first response to his appeal came from his old diocese of Nancy, from the well-known and venerable community of the Sisters of St. Charles. A novitiate was formed that year (1868) at Kouba, at a house where the archbishop had already instituted a shelter for those Arab girls who were rescued from starvation during that terrible year of famine.

At first, however, the work allotted to these Sisters was of a strictly local nature ; and even when the small community was increased by the addition of the Sisters of the Assumption, who also came from that French city where Lavigorie had, in his short episcopate, done so much good and exercised so deep and lasting an influence, their scope was not materially widened. The eye of “ Monseigneur,” however, was ever upon them and their interests, and the object they and he had in view. At last, nearly ten years after that first settlement in Kouba, the cardinal officially formed them into a congregation of missionary sisters, with an independent existence and system of self-government, under the designation of Sisters of Our Lady of African Missions.

For a few years the obvious results were sufficiently humble to give some color to the derision or misrepresentation of the covertly malicious, the openly hostile, and the indifferent; and at the same time marked enough to encourage all who wished the woman mission well, — all save those who could not realize that great results must be attained only through endless toil and patience, and in obscurity. But at last even the hostile had to admit that a labor of extraordinary importance, whether tending to ultimate good or ultimate evil, was being fulfilled throughout Algeria, and even among the intractable Kabyles and the haughtily resentful Arabs and Moors. Now, the African Sisters, as they are called succinctly, are a recognized power in the land ; and even the most bigoted anti-religionist would hesitate to aver that their influence is not wholly for good.

Among the Arabs, there was and is a spirit of wonder and admiration for the dauntless courage, the self-sacrificing devotion, the medical knowledge and skill, the tenderness and saintly steadfastness, of these heroic women. Hundreds have been brought to a different attitude entirely through observation of the Sœurs de Notre Dame d’Afrique. In the words of the eminent Jesuit whom I have already quoted, “ The moral superiority of these women, their self-denying kindness, their courage and devotion, deeply impressed the unbelievers, who gazed at them with astonishment and admiration, as if they belonged to a different order of beings, and were something more than human.”

Cardinal Lavigerie himself bore frequent testimony of a similar kind. “ I have seen them,” he said on one occasion, “ in the midst of their work. I have seen them surrounded by a motley crowd of men and children, both Christians and Mohammedans, all clamoring to them for succor ; begging them to cure their ailments, to relieve their poverty; kissing with the utmost veneration the habit they wear.” Here, again, is a remarkable instance, also adduced by the cardinal: “One of the Sisters was passing through the streets of a populous Eastern city, and was accosted by an old man, a Turk, who said to her, with a mixture of curiosity and respect, ‘ Tell me, Sister, when you came down from heaven, did you wear the same dress in which we now see you? ’ ” I may give another instance, from my own observation. In the Sahara there is a populous oasis town, Sidi-Okba. It is known as “ the sacred city,” partly because it contains the tomb of Okba, the first Mohammedan conqueror of Africa, partly because its chief mosque is the most ancient and venerated building in Africa, and partly because it is the religious capital of the Ziban and the Sahara,— so sacred, indeed, that it has no rival in Africa except Kairouan in Tunisia. Sidi-Okba is the Mecca of Algeria, and seven pilgrimages to it will insure eternal salvation. Naturally, there is no place under French dominion where fanaticism is so ripe, and where it is more necessary for the Christian infidel to be scrupulously on his guard against giving cause of offense. Not very long ago, no European women were able to appear in Sidi-Okba, even with an escort, without having to run the risk of insult, and even violence. It is now, and for a few years past has been, safe enough for a woman to venture there in the daytime and with an escort; otherwise, as a French officer at Biskra assured me, the hazard would be a direct invitation to disaster. Even now the inhabitants resent the presence of an unveiled Christian woman in their sacred town and near the venerated tomb of Okba, to come into whose near neighborhood was, within a comparatively short time, certain death for any Christian slave, prisoner, or half-disguised trafficker ; for at the period in question no other could mix with that fanatical populace. I am bound to say that when my wife and I visited Sidi-Okba, we met with no active unpleasantness of any unusual kind, though at the entrance to the mosque there were fanatical followers of the Prophet who spat on the ground as we passed, and muttered their wonted kelb and djifa (“ dog ” and carrion ”). Well, the African Sisters have not only gone to this unlikely place, but have thriven there. In the face of threats, insults, and passive (and occasionally active) opposition, they have persevered, and are now winning an ever-increasing reward.

There is a small number of them housed in a dwelling in the heart of Sidi-Okba, — a fact not mentioned in any Algerian guidebook ; and thence, at all hours, at any call of need, the White Sisters (so called because, like the White Fathers, they have adopted a white robe, made and worn in the Arab fashion) emerge, safe as in France, unhindered, and even honored. I shall not soon forget my surprise when, after all I had heard concerning the impossibility of a woman venturing forth by herself in Sidi-Okba, I saw a White Sister cross the marketplace, and actually being saluted by many of the fanatical Sahara Arabs with their familiar courtesy of the hand pressed first against the heart, and then against the forehead.

From a White Father in Biskra I learned that the work so silently and unostentatiously done by these African Sisters is of so great importance that if, for any reason, it were impossible for both the White Fathers and the White Sisters to remain there as missioners, the Fathers would unquestionably have to give way.

“ In a word,” he added, “ we are the pioneers, forever on the march after receding boundaries ; the Sisters are the first dauntless and indefatigable settlers, who bring the practically virgin soil into a prosperous condition, full of promise for a wonderful and near future.”

I asked if there were many mischances in the career of those devoted women.

“Few,” he replied: “ strangely enough, fewer than with the White Fathers. We have had many martyrs to savage violence, to the perils and privations of desert life. The Sisters have had martyrs, also, but these have lost their lives in ways little different from what would have beset them in any other foreign clime. As for endurance, both of climatic strain and privations generally. I have come to the conclusion that women can undergo more than men; that is, if they have anything like fair health, are acting in concert, and are sustained by religious fervor. They do not, as a rule, act so well on their own initiative ; they cannot, naturally, do pioneer work so well as men ; and though they have superior moral courage, they are unable to face certain things, in particular absolute loneliness, isolation, remoteness. Many a White Father would instinctively shrink from the task fearlessly set themselves by some of the more daring Sisters ; yet these very heroines would be quite unable to cope with some hazards almost inevitable in the career of one of our missioners. More and more we are relying upon individual effort guided by a central control. The missioner who goes forth alone, with no weapon of defense save the crucifix, goes clothed with a power greater than any envoy warrant or tribal pass. The Christian marabouts, as they call us, appeal to the people when they confront not only death, but isolation, poverty, hunger, thirst, privations of all kind ; and this, too, as voluntary nomads, disdaining even the sacred repute of the Mohammedan marabout, who, by staying in one place and living austerely, makes his fellows revere him as a holy anchorite.”

“ Have you known anything from your own observation regarding the tragedy of this Sahara mission work on the part of women ? ”

“ Only one instance, though of course I have heard of others. This was a remarkable one. Some four or five years ago, a young Sister — whom I will call Sister Eunice simply, as her friends are prominent people in the city she came from — joined the Algerian Missions Sisterhood. She had been engaged, before she took the vows, to a French officer. For reasons which I need not explain she had decided to break this engagement ; and no persuasions could induce her to alter her decision, to which she felt morally bound despite her love for her fiancé. She came to Algeria, and for a time was a novice at the central establishment near Algiers. She was not only very prepossessing in appearance, but was singularly winsome in her manner, and this, coupled with her exceptionally well-trained mind, made her superiors consider her preeminently fitted for educational work, particularly among the women and children of the Arab ‘refuges’ and training schools. This might have been her vocation; but her former fiancé — who, whatever his faults, and I may add misfortunes, certainly loved her to distraction — had exchanged into an Algiers regiment, so as to be near her, and in time win her again. A tragic episode, into which I need not enter, happened a few months later. Mainly in consequence, Sister Eunice determined to join the missioners in the Sahara, and after some difficulty all arrangements were made to further her wishes. She came first to Biskra ; then for a brief time labored in Sidi-Okba; then returned here. By this time she was familiar with the language, manners, and customs of the Arabs of the Sahara ; and her intention was to leave the Ziban, and penetrate into the barbaric south. With this intent she reached Touggourt.3 At that time her appearance there was almost as strange an event as would be a similar appearance to-day in, say, Timbuktû. Nevertheless all went well.

“ One day, some weeks later, a small body of French officers rode into the remote Arab town in connection with some matter of military moment. Among them was Captain B-. He knew of the presence of Sister Eunice ; and before he and his companions left again, the same evening, he sought her out. In his despair at her continued refusal to meet his wishes, he seized her in his arms, kissed her, and then, hurrying to the meeting-place, mounted his horse and rode away with his companions. That embrace was her undoing. The sole protection of the Sister was her reputation for saintliness. The incident had been observed, and the rumor spread from mouth to mouth.

“ The so - called Christian saint was, then, the light-o’-love of a French officer, and no doubt a spy into the bargain, sent there by the military authorities, in the guise of a female marabout. Anger, resentment, and contempt confused their judgment. That night Sister Eunice was publicly insulted, and at dawn her mutilated corpse was lying outside the mud walls of the Kesbah. Months elapsed before the Sister’s death was authenticated, and it was not till long afterwards that the whole story became known ; and even then fragmentarily, and to very few persons.” 4

From the same authority, and elsewhere in Biskra and the neighborhood, I heard much of the heroic ventures, endurance, sufferings, and achievements of the White Fathers. Great as is the good they have done in their joint mission of conversion and civilization, the immediate result of which is a marked gain in general health and individual physical well-being and the communal weal, their most notable efforts have been for some time, and still are, directed against that cancer of Africa, the slave trade. No one who has not examined the subject in detail can form any idea of the frightful extent of the North African slave trade, or of the unspeakable horrors that accompany it, to say nothing of the depopulation of vast tracts, the generating of devastating plagues (particularly the dreadful scourge known as slave typhus), and the ruin of all chances for the redemption of this long-suffering Ishmael among the countries of the world.

In the general Christian crusade against this gigantic evil, nearly all nations deserve credit, notably Great Britain, America, Belgium, and France, — though official France lags sadly behind the generous initiative of the great cardinal, who did more than any other single individual, perhaps more even than any ruler or government, to mitigate the horrors of slavery and put an end to this fearful traffic.

At the moment, there are international jealousies, half-hearted ideals, and chauvinistic temporizings which together militate strongly against the success of this noble war of emancipation. The French have been too complaisant along the frontiers of Morocco, and in the regions environing the dominions of Tunisia and Tripoli; far southward, the Germans have caused deep dissatisfaction by their high-handed proceedings, and what looks like connivance at, if not actual participation in, the very evils the German nation is among the foremost sincerely to deplore. The British Protestant missionaries are accused by the German and French military authorities of being firebrands and meddlesome and troublesome neighbors. We, on the other hand, are too apt to regard the White Fathers of Cardinal Lavigerie, the Jesuit Fathers, the Christian Brothers, and Catholic missioned of all kinds as the mere tools of restless and scheming rivals animated by envy, avarice, and all manner of ill will.

But behind all this international bickering and difficulty-mongering, beyond all this fierce conflict of adverse opinion, threatened interests, and thwarted passions, there is the steadfast tide of Christian energy, everywhere “ making for righteousness,” everywhere watched, controlled, and guided beneficently by singleminded, single-hearted apostolic missioners of all nations and all denominations.

Personally, I think the greatest work is being achieved by the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular by the institutions and societies inaugurated, and the specially trained emissaries sent forth, by Cardinal Lavigerie.

Everywhere I went in North Africa I was struck by this fact. I asked a Protestant missionary in Flemçen—an important town in the extreme west of Algeria, near the frontier of Morocco — why it was that, apart from the question of statistically greater success on the part of Catholic missioners, there seemed to be so radical a difference in the way in which the White Fathers, for example, and the equally indomitable Protestant missionaries got at the Arab, Moorish, and Soudanese populations.

My informant frankly admitted that the difference is radical.

“We lack that particular quality of imagination, or sympathy, call it what one will, which enables some missioners literally to be all things to all men. We are, broadly speaking, always ourselves : always English, or Scottish, or American ; always conscious of our Protestant calling, our Protestant arrogance, our Protestant aloofness. Naturally, I believe that in the long run our compensating qualities tell, and predominate ; but at first, and for long, we are handicapped. Now, the White Fathers, for instance, are not primarily French, or Catholic priests, or missioners of this or that lord spiritual or temporal, but are men preoccupied by a burning zeal as heralds of a message of vital importance, — a message independent of anything save its immediacy and paramount value. To a great extent, this magnificent abnegation and discipline are due to Cardinal Lavigerie, who never failed to impress upon the missioners whom he sent forth that the first thing they had to do was to conform in all reasonable respects to the manners, customs, and habits of the Moslem people among whom they were to sojourn ; to feel with them, see with their eyes, as much as possible judge with their minds. To this end, he made the Fathers adopt a white robe similar to that worn by the Arabs; to this end, he not only made them learn to speak Arabic fluently, and to be familiar with the Koran and the chief writings upon it, but insisted on their adequate physical training in horsemanship and all kinds of exercise. So that when a White Father goes among the Arabs he is, in a way, already one with them. This wins their confidence, to start with. Then, when he expounds the faith that is in him, he lays little stress upon anything save the fundamental truths of Christianity; that is, of course, as he considers them.

“ Above all, in what he teaches and in what we teach concerning the oneness of God — or rather, the way we teach that living doctrine — is a difference where the advantage is all on his side. The Arab, with his intense faith in the absolute unity of Allah, more readily follows one who does not confuse his hearer with different arguments regarding the Trinity, but speaks clearly and logically of God and Christ and the Virgin, — more readily than one who dwells upon a mystery which is altogether beyond the Moslem comprehension or sympathy. Moreover, the priests do not, as a rule, say much against Mohammed ; rather, they accept him frankly as a minor prophet, but one whose faith became perverted even in his lifetime, and whose influence has been mainly a harmful one.”

From what I saw and heard throughout the length and breadth of French North Africa, I am convinced that one of the greatest works of contemporary Christianity is being fulfilled there in divers ways and through divers agencies, though mainly through the instrumentality of that famous prelate whose name will henceforth be linked with those of Cyprian and Augustine as among the foremost glories of the Church of Christ in Africa.

Indubitably, it is a great wrong to insinuate, as is done in so many ways, that the Christian missions have failed in Africa, and that Mohammedanism is everywhere militant and triumphant. The opposite is the truth; and throughout southern as well as northern Algeria, throughout Kabylia, throughout Tunisia, the Christian church and the Christian school are everywhere supplanting the mosque and the m’drassa.

William Sharp.

  1. This is the Nymphanion who, shortly before his fellow-martyrs Jocundus and Saturninus, suffered death for the sake of Christ under Septimius Severus in the year 198.
  2. It is certainly the case that there is seldom offspring of a union between an Arab woman and a European. The exception, if it may pass as one, is the instance of a union between a Turk and an Arab woman; though it must be remembered that the Koulougli, who were at one time so numerous in Algeria, and are still common enough to be reckoned with as factors in native politics, are the children, not of a Turk and an Arab woman of the nomad race, but of a Turk and a Moorish woman of Algiers.
  3. An oasis town of the northern Sahara, lying about three days’ journey to the south of Biskra.
  4. I do not give this episode in full, for various reasons; but in another form I intend to give the narrative in all its details.