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THE MISSIONS
by Father Eliseus of the Nativity

 THE CARMELITE MISSIONS (II)

DEVELOPMENT

 1. Persian and Mesopotamian Group

   While at Ispahan, where, as we have said, a residence was established in 1607, Fathers Paul-Simon, John Thaddeus and Vincent were harmonizing as best they could the contemplative and apostolic life. At Rome the sending of reinforcements was being considered. Two religious, and later two others, left Italy bound far Persia. Exactly what type of apostolate did these Discalced monks exercise? They sustained the faith of the Catholics who had continued to hand down the true religion from father to son: they benefited the schismatics who were only too often witnesses of the corruption of the priests of their own rites; they occasionally converted some Mohammedans. Their influence at the Court permitted them to preach unhindered in the streets of the city or in the public squares and to enter houses to discuss freely Jesus and Mohammed. One of the most precious effects of their presence was to send to heaven a large number of little angels, far they ordinarily exercised the work of mercy which has since been given the name of Work of the Holy Infancy. Dying children were abandoned to them and they baptized them, If death did not take these little beings, they entrusted them to Christians who raised them as servants and some­times adopted them. Father Alexander of Saint Sylvester, whose knowledge of medicine made him especially valuable for this type of charity, during three years baptized 2,918 small children. Before leaving Ispahan we should note that Father John-Thaddeus, during a visit to Rome, was appointed Archbishop of that city after having undergone an examination before the Roman Court for which he anxiously asked the reason: unfortunately he could not return to his archbishopric crowned with that dignity. Before returning to his post he decided to make a tour to gather funds for the purpose of setting up a Persian printing establishment, the first in the kingdom, and died accidentally at Lerida in Spain. The Calced Carmelite Church in that city holds the remains of this valiant missionary who for twenty-seven years had done such good work in the vineyards of the Lord. Father John-Thaddeus left a certain number of reports and a Persian translation of the Book of Psalms and of the Gospels.

     Chah-Abbas was a very violent man; although he was generous when one had his favour, he was greatly to be feared when displeased. The Carmelites ex­perienced this when one day, angry because the Christian princes did not hasten to his aid against the Turks, he turned his fury against the missionaries. In an instant they found himse1ves driven out of their house and their church into a stable. It is true that their dignified attitude obliged the prince to recant and gained for them a more beautiful house then before, but they no longer felt secure under the tutelage of such a princes. It was this incident which motivated the Carmelite foundation at Ormuz. Ormuz, “second colony of the Portuguese” in the Orient, is situated on the strait of the same name which separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman. At the time with which we are concerned it was “the most highly commercial city of the Orient” and one of the fortresses which the Portuguese were most interested in maintaining. Moreover, the Portuguese colony there was very numerous, consisting of officers, soldiers of the garrison and traders. Father Vincent of Saint Francis was sent from Ispahan to arrange for the foundation. The apostolate of the Fathers among the five hundred families and the few hundred baptized Indians was very fruitful. Our apostles had no easy task in recalling to their penitents adventurers all the laws which regulate good morals and the elementary principles of justice. Difficulties were not lacking which made the Fathers pay very dearly for the good they were doing. One day the Viceroy of the Indies sent a commissioner to Ormuz “to drive out our Fathers by force and to demolish the convent with canon shot if they tried to resist”. The intrepid Superior solemnly exposed the Blessed Sacrament in the highest part of the house, “all the people and especially the garrison soldiers flocked to our defence... even threatening to put the governor to death if the least harm came to us”, and the commissioner had no choice but to descent “into our church to say his prayers”. The Ormuz mission was destroyed in 1622 when the Portuguese lost that city.  

While the mission at Ormuz inaugurated the advance of the Carmelites toward the Indies, a foundation at Bassorah at the Confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates prepared the way for their extension toward Mesopotamia and Syria. Father Prosper of the Holy Spirit, who was appointed Prior at Ispahan in 1620, that same year sent to Bassorah Father Basil of Saint Francis who had just returned to Persia with him. “The basis of this mission was the coming each year of the Portuguese who sailed there to trade and never failed twice a year to send…,a fleet of more than twenty merchant vessels”. The Mohammedans tolerated the Fathers because their presence drew the traders. When the Portuguese arrived the city seemed more like a city of Christians; confessions and communions on feast days were very numerous. “Besides this service which our Fathers perform for the Portuguese, they render more important benefits to the Oriental Christians who live there, employing all their efforts for their salvation”. The influence of the Fathers on the so called Christians of St. John was such that seven hundred of these Joannites were converted and almost brought over the whole sect which, it was said, numbered more than twenty thousand families”.

Let us mention also the missions of Bander-Abbas and Bander-Congo on the Persian Gulf, founded in 1680 for the same purpose as that of Bassorah; that of Hamadan in Persia, opened the same year, and that of Giulfa near Ispahan, created ten years later to assist the Armenian Catholics who were numerous in that region.

The last of these Arabian missions and the one which would one day surpass all the others in importance, was that of Baghdad, whose chapel was inaugurated on July 8, 1731. The founders were Fathers Joseph-Mary of Jesus and Emmanuel of St. Albert. It was on the initiative of a Greek Physician, Testabusa, that the Discalced Carmelites came to establish themselves in the city of the Thousand and One Nights. Since the good doctor had free entree at the palace of the Waly he insisted on the admittance into the city of the heirs of the Khader (the Verdant) (Notes: This is the surname which the Koran gives to the prophet Elias, signifying the “ever-loving”). It would please Elias, ho said, to receive these monks, and the pretext was a good one, for the holy prophet had the power of inspiring great esteem based on reverential fear in the Mohammedans of this locality. Father Emmanuel was appointed Archbishop of Babylon and Apostolic Delegate to Persia by Benedict XIV (Note: The first Archbishop of Babylon had been Father Bernard of Teresa. A certain lady had offered the Holy See an annuity for the creation of this archdiocese on condition that the incumbent always be French and that the first to occupy the position be Father Bernard).

           At the same time he was named French Consul General to Mesopotamia and Persia by the very christian King. This function, exercised for a long time thereafter by the Prefect of the mission, allowed the Carmelites to live in security in this city which, despite its title of “House of Peace” (Dar es Salem), was often the scene of bloody struggles and was rightly considered one of the principal strongholds of the Islamic religion. The Carmelites moreover had an opportunity to gain the esteem of the population at the time of an epidemic which ravaged Baghdad in 1773 and in the course of which Father Emmanuel did as a victim of his charity.  

1, Syrian and Palestinian Group

           We have already mentioned Father Prosper of the Holy Spirit who was designated as Superior of Ispahan at the time of Father Paul-Simon a departure for Europe.

          A native of the Province of Logrono in Spain, Father Prosper had received the habit at Rome and obtained permission to go and live in the desert convent of the Province of Genoa known as the “Dove cot” (Le Colombier). The hermit said to himself occasionally: “Who knows whether a dove may not fly forth from this dove-cot to build his nest on Mount Carmel?” This intuition was to become a reality, although the hermit was very much pleased with his solitude. At the General Chapter of 1632 had they not expressed the desire that the Carmelite missionaries be very devoted to contemplation and make a period of probation in the holy desert? Father Prosper was therefore the ideal Discalced Carmelite missionary; let us also watch him at work.

          He opened a house at Aleppo on September 30, 1627. Immediately diffi­culties arose from Mohammedans and envious Catholics. Ho overcame the first, thanks to the intervention of the Christian King, and the second by his patience. According to the annalist of the Reform in France these were the beginnings of our missionaries at Aleppo; they arose at two o’clock in the morning to recite Matine, followed by one hour of prayer. The rest of the morning, after the Masses, was employed in the instruction of the young Arabs, exercises of piety and the study of the language of the country. At two o’clock they recited Vespers and the rest of the afternoon was devoted to works of charity. Then followed prayer, Compline, the small evening meal and discipline three or four times a week. Of course the Fathers rigorously practised the perpetual abstinence and the seven-month fast prescribed by the Rule: as one can see, the type of demons who can be driven out only by fasting and prayer had formidable enemies in their. But alas, Islam did not show itself to be so easily overcome. The reason for this was that every Mohammedans who was converted had to either leave his country, his people and his property or face death; the hour bad not yet come. Among the schismatic there were more consolations. Let us quote M. Picquet, the French Consul, in an account dated March 12, l658: “Without count­ing a large number of conversions among individuals belonging to all the various sects, we have seen whole nations shaken and disposed to submit to the authority of the Holy See, and this would have already been accomplished were it not for the fear of extortions (or fines). The conversion of the greater part of the Syrian and Jacobites nation will serve as evident proof of this assertion”. In 1657 the patriarch of the Jacobites was converted by Father Bruno of Saint Yves, a holy religious at whose tomb miracles would later be worked. “It can be said that in the person of this patriarch alone the fervent missionary converted and brought back to the Roman Church more than four thousand souls”. The charity of the Fathers and of the excellent Consul with regard to the starving forced another patriarch to see the truth and he abandoned the schism. Sometimes the successes were paid for dearly. The holy Father Bruno experienced something of this: “They often waited for him at street corners to fall upon him with clubs and lashes, tore out his beard and turned him over to the soldiers.”

          But we are delaying too long in this flourishing mission at Aleppo. Let us follow Father Prosper on the road to Mount Carmel. Hermit, cenobite and missionary, this valiant man was well qualified to take possession of the Biblical mountain in the name of the rejuvenated Carmel. There is something very moving in this return to the native land after more than three centuries of exile. Let us quote Father Philip. “The first intention which our Order had in the restoration of our Carmel was that the children of that holy mountain who had mourned for several centuries at being exiled from their native land might again enjoy the possession of it and that those who remained there following in the steps of their first Fathers Saint Elias and Saint Eliasus might devote themselves in this holy solitude to the intimate contemplation of things divine… which will not prevent them from leaving this retreat, following the example of their fathers, when the spiritual needs of their neighbours require it”.

          It was not without difficulty that Father Prosper succeeded in installing himself in those grottoes toward which a mysterious impulse had directed him. The difficulties came as usual both from fanatical Mohammedans and from Catholics desirous of keeping an exclusive domain in the Promised Land. The Pope protected the Carmelites against the latter; as for the former, they were pacified by dint of patience and gifts.

          It was on November 29, 1631, that the Father took possession of the new domain by celebrating the Holy Sacrifice in the grottoes of El Khader. At the General Chapter of 1632 it was decided that the General of the Discalced Carmelites should henceforth take the title of Prior of Mount Carmel. The first to bear this title was Father Paul-Simon Rivarola, whom we have already seen on the way from Persia to Ispahan. One may well wonder that Father Prosper inaugurated the Carmelite life in this grottoes as a fervent hermit. “Although they are sometimes only two religious, they nevertheless recite the divine office at the appointed hour, and waking up at midnight at the crowing of a cock, as I myself have experienced it, they get up to recite Matins”. The food was of the most frugal kind, consisting of herbs, milk furnished by the shepherds of Carmel, and water as a beverage. Despite all this, the apostolate was not neglected, “The hermits,” we are told by the same Father Philip, who lived on Mount Carmel for twenty two days, “try to draw to our religion certain inhabitants of Carmel, and this love of neighbour which forces them to leave their sweet solitude to go out in public leads them se far as Saint Jean d’Acre, three leagues away, where they go on foot to aid the Christian merchants who come there to do business”. Father Prosper even opened a house in that city with a chapel dedicated to the Holy Family (1634). He had already founded a residence at Haifa, at the foot of Carmel, with a chapel later dedicated to St. Joseph which was to become the present parish church of the Latins in Haifa. Father Prosper died on November 20, 1653, venerated as a saint by the Turks and the Arabs as well as the Catholics. He was buried near the grottoes of Elias sanctified by his austerities and his love.

The Carmelites remained in more or less peaceful possession of the chapel and cells until 1761, when during a war between the government of Saint-Jean d’Acre and the sheiks of Carmel everything was destroyed.

          On October 22, 1762 Father Philip of St. John arrived at Carmel with orders from his Superiors to restore the monastery. Assisted by a clever architect, the lay-brother John Baptist of Saint Alexis, he built a monastery, thanks particularly to the intervention of the King of France, Louis XV, who was interested in the matter by his Carmelite daughter, the Venerable Therese of Saint Augustine. This monastery was in turn by the Janissaries of Djezzar in 1799 after the departure of Napoleon.

          In this Syrian and Palestinian group let us mention, in closing, ‘the monastery of Mount Lebanon, founded in 1643 by Father Celestine of St. Lidwine. The Maronites, “stirred by the exercises and the conversation of our Fathers, gave of their own accord a hermitage and a house”. The apostolate of the Fathers among these fervent Christians was the same as that to which they de­voted themselves in Europe, preaching and the administration of the sacraments. It was the same apostolate which they exercised in their mission at Tripoli in Syria, opened in 1645 as an adjunct to that of Mount Lebanon. Tripoli, on the coast, drew large numbers of merchants, whom the Carmelites enabled to fulfil their religious obligations.

          We have mentioned Father Celestine of St. Lidwine; let us recall that this Father, of Dutch origin, became so proficient in the Arab language that “no European can be found who surpasses him in speaking it so well and there is hardly any who equals him”. His Arab translation of the Imitation is classic; it was due to his collaboration that in 1671 the Maronite Bishop Rissi was able to produce an Arabic translation of the Bible, and he himself was appointed by the Propaganda as president of a commission charged with correcting this translation. We also owe to him the Autobiography of Saint Teresa in Arabic and a Latin version of the Koran.  

III. East Indian Group

           When Father Vincent of Saint Francis left Ispahan to make a foundation at Ormuz he took as his companion Father Leander of the Annunciation, a former captain of the Spanish militia at Naples and a native of Burgos. Although the foundation at Ormuz gave many consolations to the sons of St. Teresa, they easily foresaw that this badly defended city could not always assure them an asylum. In fact, this mission of Ormuz was to disappear in 1622. Moreover Father Leander, foreseeing the catastrophe, resolved to make a foundation at Goa, a city reputed (and with reason) to be impregnable, the foremost of the Portuguese colonies in the Indies. When Father Leander presented himself, in 1620, to ask for a place of land, he discovered that the city was difficult of access not only to the enemies of Christianity but even to a foreign monk. This is the strategy that he thought out. One day when a general procession was to take place in which several statues were to figure, he arranged to have one of St. Teresa admitted to the procession, taking care to adorn it according to the taste of the time. “The day appointed for the procession having arrived, it was carried to the Archbishop all sparkling with gold, pearls and precious stones, holding in its hands a very humble request. The devout prelate admired its beauty, took the paper from its hands…wept with devotion and tenderness, and very easily gave his consent for the foundation”. At Goa the Fathers did not lack work. People came quite willingly, as everywhere, to these religious who gave such a long time to prayer and they were astonished at the same time by the austerity of their life. Some pagans were also converted, especially when famine obliged them to recognize that the Fathers were as solicitous about saving their lives as one would ordinarily be with regard to his own parents. In order to better carry out this work of charity a second house was opened in Goa. But “the principal work of the large monastery in Goa, “Father Philip tell us, “is to produce religious able to serve in the other missions, which is why the college of theology and the novitiate ere there.” Obviously, in this house of formation the regular life was observed more than anywhere else; moreover, God blessed this fidelity of the Goa monastery with the spirit of the Institute.

In 1634 Goa received as professor and Prior Father Philip of the Trinity, a native of the County of Venaissin and professed of the monastery of Lyon. Father Philip is the author of some highly regarded works of philosophy and dogmatic theology and of a Summa of Mystical Theology which places him among the best authors on the subject and which Gonet calls Cedro digna. His Itinerarium Orientale, which we have often quoted, would be the delight of geographers if it were better known because of the details which it given about people and things of the Orient from Syria to the Indies. Father Philip was Provincial of Avignon and twice filled the post of General.  

          A still greater claim to glory for the monastery of Goa is that of having produced Father Denis of the Nativity, protomartyr of the Teresian Reform. Pierre Berthelot, a native of Honfleur in Normandy, entered the service of the King of Portugal and became first pilot and cosmographer of the Indian fleet. For a long time he had felt inspired to place himself at the service of a more powerful king, which is why he asked for the habit of Carmel which he received on December 24, 1634. Brother Denis was making his studies when he was ordered by the Viceroy of the Indies to accompany the Portuguese embassy to the king of Atchin. His Superiors were very much opposed to the sudden interruption of training caused by this appointment, but they could not appear too intractable, especially since it had taken courage for them to accept such a subject whom the Jesuits had refused for fear of displeasing the Viceroy. After having received ordination in order to be able to also fulfil the duties of chaplain, Father Denis left accompanied by a Portuguese lay brother from Goa, who from a “Captain of the Guard” at Meliapour had become a humble lay brother. Having landed at Atchin the Portuguese soon found themselves the victims of an ambush. Father Denis and Brother Redemptus died confession the name of Christ on December 29, 1638. Father Philip himself laboured on their process of beatification which took place in 1900.

          Another honour for the Discalced Carmelites in the Indies is to have worked to keep from schism the “so-called Christians of Saint Thomas”. At the beginning of the l7th century, out of two hundred thousand of these Christians, only four hundred had been ablie to resist the intrigues which were striving to separate this part of Christianity from Rome. The Holy See, being warned of this, chose the Carmelites themselves to remedy this state of affairs and one of them, Father Joseph of Saint Mary, was appointed Bishop of Hierapolis and Vicar Apostolic of Malabar. Assisted by his brothers in religion, Father Joseph, having now become Monsignor Sebastiani, succeeded by force of prudence, energy and supernatural spirit to bring back to the right path most of those who had gone astray. We shall see later how the work thus begun later prospered.

           To this Indian group we attach the vicariate of the Great Mogul. It was Father Louis Francis of the Mother of God, an Andalusian, who was charged with founding this mission. “A truly holy man,” he won the admiration not only of the Christians but also of the Mohammedans and pagans of the country. The first house in the Mogul was opened at Tatta in 1613. It boasted of having trained Brother Redemptus, companion of Father Denis, who left this monastery to go to Goa. Not far from Tatta was founded the mission Diu in 1623. Let us mention also Visapor (1635), Surat, where the Carmelites replaced the Franciscans who had been driven out by the English in 1634, Caruar (1705), Sunear (1709), Bowbay (1717) and the two houses of Mahe (l723’1724), Marsegen (1730) and Daman (1769).

          There were also some isolated missions which never reached the stage of forming a group, such as those of Mozambique (1645), Madagascar (1647) and Pekin (1706).

    We cannot leave this group of Indian missions without mentioning some scholar who, by their studies on this country, won a certain renown for themselves. Father Vincent of St. Catherine, companion of Monsignor Sebastiani, wrote Il viagio all’Indie orientali, which is very much in demand even today; Father Matthew of St. Joseph wrote the Hortus Indicus-Malabaricus, which had an equality great popularity and was re-edited at Amsterdam by Syenn and Comelin in nine volumes. Still better known was Father Paulinus of St. Bartholomew (1748-1808), one of the most famous orientalists. He was the first to publish a Sanskrit grammar in Europe. We owe to him about thirty works on things of the Indies, some of which are of great value, for example his work on Le systeme brahme, liturgigue, mythologigue et civil des_monuments indiens (1791), his Biblioteca Indica which makes a study of 113 ancient manuscripts, of his Amarasinha (1798). He also wrote the Examen historico – critique des documents Indiens which is preserved in the library of the Propaganda. He was appointed prefect of the Urban College and was a member of several academies. The humble scholar died at the monastery of Santa Maria della Scala in Rome on February 7, 1808.

            The historians of the Order mention as being in mission countries those residences and monasteries founded in England, Ireland and the Netherlands.

The house at London was opened in 1614 and was followed by foundations at Canterbury, Worcester and Hereford. Among the English martyrs of the l7th century Carmel has retained the names of two of its own: Father Francis of All Saints, who died in prison in 1641, and Father Bede of the Blessed Sacrament, who gave his life for Christ in 1647.

The first Irish foundation dates from 1625, In 1638 they were already able to erect the Province of Saint Patrick on the Island of Erin. There also the white mantle of the sons of Elias was to be reddened with the blood of martyrs; we count at this period in Ireland at least seven confessors of the Faith.

The Dutch mission was founded by Father Vincent of St. Louis, a converted Calvinist and a native of Leyden. It was in his native city that Father Louis opened a residence in 1648 to assure maintenance of the good dispositions of the Catholics and to facilitate the conversion of the heretics. In that same year this zealous apostle died a victim of his charity while caring for those infected with the plague. A famous member of the Academy of Leyden, Peter Berth, being converted to Catholicism, his three sons followed his example and all three embraced the religious life with the Discalced Carmelites of the Province of Paris. One of them left for the missions of the Levant; the other two, named Peter of the Mother of God and Caesar of St. Bonaventure, obtained permission to return to Holland, where their zeal was crowned with wide successes. A residence was established at The Hague (1648), another house was opened at Leyden (1653). In 1662 Father Bernard of St. Joseph founded the residence at Amsterdam, whose Church served as a parish far the French of the city.

     
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