Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 05

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

The Missions Given on the Island of Corsica

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This island lies in the Mediterranean, as a dependency of the Republic of Genoa. [1] In 1652 Monsieur Vincent was asked for some priests of his Congregation to give missions in the area. Seven priests were sent to work in various places on the island, aided by four other ecclesiastics, and by four religious supplied by Cardinal Durazzo, archbishop of Genoa. [2]

The first mission was given at Campo Lauro, the usual residence of the bishop of Aleria. At the time, however, the see was vacant. Two vicars general were governing it, one named by the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide [3], and the other elected by the cathedral chapter. These two vicars had difficulty getting along, and often found themselves on opposite sides of every question, so much so that what one did the other undid. For example, when the one would pronounce a sentence of excommunication, the other would absolve from the censure. This resulted in the clergy and people being in a most troubled and divided state, and caused many disorders throughout the country.

The second mission was given in a place called Il Cotone, the third at Corte, which in the center of the island, and the fourth and last at Niolo.

To understand fully the outcome of these missions, we must realize that lack of instruction was widespread among the people. It caused the vices of impiety, concubinage, incest, stealing, lying, and above all else revenge, which was almost universal. They often treated one another barbarically, never pardoning or even wanting to discuss reaching an accord, until they had satisfied their thirst for vengeance. Not only did they treat the one who had done them the injury in this fashion, but it extended to the entire family, down to the third degree of kinship. It follows from this that if someone caused an injury, all his relatives must be on their guard, for the first one meeting him regarded him as an accomplice in the crime, even though he might have been entirely innocent and unaware that an injury had been inflicted. As a result, everyone went about armed. At the least word their honor was threatened and would have to be settled by a killing. Although this kingdom of Corsica is a beautiful and fertile land, it is sparsely settled as a consequence.

The missions were, by the grace of God, quite successful. This came about, first, by the conferences and spiritual exercises which the missionaries gave each day in the church to the canons, pastors, and other priests after the other people had been dismissed. The superior of the Mission presented a series of exhortations on the obligations and duties of priests, and suggested subjects for meditation. He prepared them for making their general confessions, and by this means rectified several past scandals. Good resolutions were taken to fulfill their obligations towards God and their neighbor. Some among the clergy were so moved with regret for past failings they publicly asked pardon for the bad example they had given. There were several pastors who thus publicly confessed their faults, as did an entire chapter through the voice of one of the canons, speaking in the name of all.

The missions were successful in resolving many conflicts and effecting many reconciliations. One person pardoned the death of his brother, another of his father, his child, his wife, a parent, etc. Others forgave those who had falsely accused them, or testified falsely against them in lawsuits, overlooking all that might be due their honor or their interest. They embraced their former enemies cordially, those who shortly before sought to take away their honor or even their very lives. What is even more remarkable, these important reconciliations were numbered not by twos or threes, but by fifties, and by the hundreds everywhere.

A third area of blessings was the cessation and correction of many concubinages, a frequent occurrence on the island, and the large number of loose women who publicly asked pardon for their disorderly conduct. Their repentance moved many others. Remorseful at giving such scandal by their sins, they rose from their places in the crowd, and cried aloud to God for his mercy and pardon from the people. Their words were accompanied by such signs of true repentance for their sins that it moved the entire assembly to tears.

Lastly, the establishment of the Confraternity of Charity not only provided help for the sick poor, but gave an outlet for other good works for members of the Confraternity. All these added to the edification of their families and to others who witnessed their good example.

To appreciate better the extent and importance of the outcome of these missions, on which the grace which God poured out abundantly on Monsieur Vincent, we will give here a bit lengthier account of the last of these missions. It follows the report sent by the superior of the Mission to Monsieur Vincent.

Niolo is a valley about three leagues long, by a half league wide, surrounded by mountains, with access and roads as limited as any place I have seen elsewhere, even including the Pyrenees or those in Savoy. This results in the region being infested with bandits and riffraff of the island, who commit their robberies and murders with no fear of the hand of the law. There are several small villages in the valley, and about two thousand inhabitants, all told, in the surrounding regions. In all Christendom I do not know of any people more neglected. There are hardly any vestiges of the faith, except some few who say they were baptized. There are a few churches, but these are in bad repair. They are in such ignorance of matters concerning their own salvation that only with great difficulty could you find a hundred persons who would know the commandments of God or the Apostles Creed. To ask them if there is one God or many, or which of the three Persons became man for us, is to speak Arabic to them.

Revenge is the vice which passes here for virtue. Children learn it before they learn to walk or talk. For the least offense, vengeance is the proper response, and no one will tell them any differently. This is the traditional lesson learned from their own parents, and this vice has taken such roots in their hearts they are not able to conceive anything to the contrary.

There are some here who have not been to mass in seven or eight months. They have gone three, four, eight, or ten years without going to confession. There are some young people of fifteen or sixteen who have never confessed, and with that, some vices are prevalent among these poor people. They are given to stealing, and have no scruple about eating meat during Lent or other forbidden times.

They treat one another like barbarians. If there is question of an enemy, they do not hesitate to accuse him falsely before the courts of great crimes, with as many false witnesses as you care to see. On the other hand, the one accused, whether guilty or not, produces as many "witnesses" as he needs to support his innocence. Thus it comes about that justice is a commodity no one expects. It is left up to each to defend himself, which they do, often killing one another in the process.

Besides this, another source of difficulty concerns the sacrament of marriage. They seldom receive it unless the parties have previously lived together. Ordinarily, when the couple are engaged, the girl moves in with the future husband, and remains in this state of concubinage for two or three months, and sometimes two or three years, before getting around to marriage. Even worse, many of these marriages take place between close relatives, with no thought of dispensation from the impediment of consanguinity. They continue to live in this state eight or ten years or even fifteen years or more. If they have children, and the husband dies, they are abandoned as bastards, with the woman marrying another, often enough one of her own relatives. We have seen cases of a woman with three husbands with whom she has lived in concubinage and incest. Sometimes, after living together for a while, some come to lose their mutual affection, even when children are involved, and leave each other to seek new partners.

There is another great abuse here, in that most parents cause their children to be married long before the proper age. Some are married at age four or five, and there is even a case of a one-year-old girl being married to another child, five years old. Another disorder comes from this, that these children often have no affection for one another, cannot get along together, and not only get a divorce, but often develop hatreds. This leads to attacks and even murders against the other party.

In this single valley we discovered one hundred and twenty concubinages, of which about ninety were incestuous as well. Among these were about forty who had been denounced and excommunicated because of it, but this did not prevent their neighbors from dealing and conversing with them as freely as if the Church had not censured them. Most of the people of the region had become involved in this, one way or the other, either by the original excommunication or by incurring this same punishment themselves for continuing to associate with those who had been denounced.

This is the deplorable state in which these poor people lived when the priests were sent here to give the missions. Here is how we began to bring some remedy to these disorders:

  1. In the first place, we used all our energy to instruct the people in what was required for their own salvation. This took us about three weeks.
  2. We then separated the concubines, at least those we knew about and who lived in the area. Then on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, patrons of the local church, all the concubines convinced of the evil state in which they were living and moved by a true spirit of penance, fell on their knees at the close of our sermon. They publicly asked pardon for their scandal, and promised on oath to separate. Those who had really left each other's company approached the tribunal of the confessional.
  3. The excommunicated who showed signs of a truly humble and contrite heart were gathered together at the door of the church to be absolved from their sentence. They were told the seriousness of the offense, and were obliged, one after the other, by a public oath, to promise to remain separated, and never to enter the house of the other party for any cause or reason whatsoever. Then they were absolved. They were then received in confession, and later given communion. Some priests in the region had themselves contributed to these disorders by their own bad example, and had committed incest with nieces or close relatives. It pleased the mercy of God to touch their hearts, too, either by the charitable warnings made to them, or by the spiritual conferences which they had attended. All these made their general confession with all signs of true repentance, adding thereto public reparation for the scandal they had given.

The most difficult part of our work was our efforts for effecting reconciliations, and I could rightly say hoc opus, hic labor, ["this is the task, this is the toil"] [4] because the greater part of the people lived in enmity. We were fifteen days with no signs of progress, except for a young man who forgave an assailant who had shot him in the head. All the others remained adamant, unmoved by all we could say. Even so, this did not prevent a crowd of people at our sermons, given both in the morning and evening.

The men come to the sermons fully armed, a sword at their side and a firearm at their shoulder, their customary attire. The bandits and criminals, besides these arms, had in addition two pistols and several daggers in their belt. These people were so occupied with thoughts of hatred and vengeance there was nothing we could say to cure them of this strange disease, or to make any impression upon their troubled minds. When we spoke of the forgiveness of enemies, several left the sermon. We all were perplexed about how to proceed, especially myself more than the others, since I was chiefly responsible for resolving these difficulties.

Lastly, the eve of the day for general communion, as I finished my sermon, I once more exhorted the people to pardon one another. God inspired me to take my crucifix, and invite anyone who wished to pardon his enemies to come and kiss it. I spoke of our Lord holding out his arms to them, saying that those who would come kiss the crucifix would give a sign they were willing to pardon and were prepared to be reconciled to their enemies. At these words they began to look at one another, but no one stirred from his place. As I prepared to leave, I covered up the crucifix, conscious of their hard hearts. I told the congregation they were not worthy to receive the grace and blessings our Lord was offering them.

At this, a Franciscan stood up, and began to shout: "O Niolo! O Niolo! Do you wish to be cursed by God? Do you not want to receive the grace he is sending you through these missionaries, who have come from so far away for your salvation?" While this good religious was speaking these words, a local pastor whose nephew had been killed, with the murderer in the church listening to the sermon, came forward and asked to kiss the crucifix. At the same time he said in a loud voice, "Let him, the murderer, come forward, and I shall embrace him." After this, another priest did the same in regard to his enemies who were also present, and many others followed. For an hour and a half the church witnessed a whole series of reconciliations and embraces. As a precaution, the major settlements were put in writing to be made public by the notary of the town.

The next day was the general communion day. We arranged a day of general reconciliation, in which the people asked pardon of God and then of their pastors, and in turn the pastors asked the same of the congregation. All this happened with much edification. I then asked if anyone at all still was not reconciled with his enemies. At once one of the pastors called out several by name. They came before the exposed blessed sacrament, and with no hesitation offered their hand to their former enemies. O Lord, what happiness on earth and what joy in heaven to see fathers and mothers, for the love of God, pardoning those who had killed their son or daughter, women whose husbands had been slain, children their parents, brothers and close relatives their own family members, in a word, all reconciled to one another. In some other countries it is not unusual to see penitents weep at the feet of their confessors, but it is a small miracle to see this in Corsica.

The day following the general communion we received instructions to go to la Bastide, where a galley sent by the senate of Genoa awaited us. However, we still delayed two days, which we used profitably in tying up some loose ends. On Tuesday we gave a sermon on perseverance, at which so many people attended we had to hold the service outside the church. Promises and resolutions were repeated, together with commitments to lead truly Christian lives, and to persevere until death. The pastors promised to be faithful to teaching catechism, and to carrying out their other duties as well.

The rain that began at the end of the sermon prevented our leaving that day. In the evening I went to a remote place to speak to two people who had not attended the mission for fear of being moved to forgive their enemies, who had murdered their brother. The pastor had persuaded them to agree not to retaliate for this killing, at least until after they had spoken with us. They agreed to this, and by the grace of God their hearts were moved to pardon the murderers. On Wednesday morning we heard their confessions and gave them communion, and then we left together with several priests and other leading citizens. As a sign of their happiness and as a token of thanks to us for the little services we had rendered, they fired their guns and pistols as a salute as we were boarding the galley for Genoa. [5]

  1. It belonged to France after 1768.
  2. Etienne Blatiron was superior.
  3. In 1982 Pope John Paul II changed the Congregation's name to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
  4. Virgil, Aeneid, 6,129.
  5. CED IV:411-16.


This page:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Section Five/: The Missions Given on the Island of Corsica

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Index: The Missions of Monsieur Vincent

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two