A mature fruit of the mission of the sons of Saint Vincent in Algiers
by: Sister Rosa Mendoza, DC
[This article appeared in Anales Volume 120, No. 1, January-February, 2012)
We do not know with certainty if Saint Vincent walked on African soil as a slave. We cannot deny, however, his knowledge of the piracy that occurred on the Mediterranean and of the evils that were inflicted upon the poor slaves. Tunis and Algiers were like a nightmare for him. He began his strategy by opening a house in Marseilles in 1643 and sent four missionaries there. This city, where the missionaries cared from the Christian slaves, would gain him entrance into Tunis and Algiers. For that end he entered into an agreement with the French consuls of those cities. He did not stop until he was able to send his best missionaries there. Among others he sent the brothers Jean and Philippe Le Vacher. Saint Vincent knew very well where he was sending his companions. In a letter to Father Philippe Le Vacher and Brother Barreau he tells them: humble yourself profoundly and be prepared to suffer from [the] Turks (CCD:IV:361).
Saint Vincent’s courage, as well as that of his missionaries, was balanced by their prudence. Their lives were constantly in danger and it was necessary for them to protect themselves in order to provide the slaves with their pastoral ministry. In a letter to Father Philippe, Vincent sates: It seems as if you have taken on too much in the beginning, such as wanting to give a mission in the prisons, wanting to say there yourself, and introducing new practices of devotion among these poor people … good works are often spoiled by moving too quickly (CCD:IV:128).
Philippe Le Vacher held the position of Vicar-Apostolic to the Holy See and at different times was the French Consul. This provided him with a certain freedom in moving about and made it easier for him to assist the thousands of Christians who were imprisoned. The situation of the slaves was depressing. Father Jean Le Vacher wrote to Saint Vincent and used these words: Among the slaves in this place, beside those in the prisons, I found forty of them enclosed in a stable so small and narrow that they could hardly move. The only air they received was through a vent, closed with an iron gate at the top of the arch. They are all chained together two by two and kept locked up all the time. Yet, they work at grinding wheat with a small, manually-operated mill, and the quota they have to grind each day is beyond their strength (CCD:IV:367).
Saint Vincent had great confidence in Father Philippe and spoke highly of him to his companions praising him for his great zeal and dedication to the slaves, admiring the fact that he spent entire nights in the chapel and the prisons hearing the confessions of these individuals. This missionary zeal explains his courage at the time of Pedro Borguny’s martyrdom, the fruit of his pastoral and human outreach.
Pedro Borguny was one of those Christian slaves who reached Algiers. He was bornin Palma, Majorca on May 16, 1628. He felt compelled to defend his friends at the cost of his life, committing unlawful acts (attempted assassination) for which he was exiled from Palma.
He set out on the seas to do business but was captured by the Turks and sent to Argel. There he spent five horrible years.
Continuing with his youthful impulses he became involved in an altercation with another salved and wounded him with pincers. He was punished immediately and was to be sent to Constantinople where he would have no hope of being rescued by his father.
He asked help from the Pasha who promised him protection if he renounced Christianity and embraced the religion of Mohammed. The young man did not hesitate. He pronounced the formula of apostasy and wore the outward symbols of a Muslim: turban, djellabah, sword and slippers. It did not take long for him to recognize his sin and soon he entered a crisis that affected him day and night. The encounter with his friends from Majorca, slaves like him, became the occasion for an on-going confession in which he asked for their pardon and God’s forgiveness and wanted to make reparation for his sins.: I, like Peter, have denied my Lord. In my exterior I appear to be a Muslim, but interiorly I am a Christian and I want to die in the faith in which my parents educated me .
Soon he had the opportunity to confess publically that he was a Christian, that he had always been a Christian and that he wanted to atone for his sins. This led to a death sentence by burning and this act was carried out on August 30, 1654.
Father Le Vacher, overcoming his fears, went to the place where this punishment was to be carried out and from a distance of twenty paces absolved him of his apostasy and all his sins. Pedro died in peace as the Creed was prayed. His strength and love of Jesus Christ impressed Father Le Vacher and the many Christians who witnessed his death. The body of the martyr was gathered up secretly and he was buried in the house of the missionary who guarded his body until he could bring it to Paris in 1657 where he gave it Vincent de Paul.
The account of Philippe Le Vacher and his letters before his return to Parish in 1657 had a tremendous impact on Saint Vincent. Vincent did not hesitate in calling the young man from Majorca a martyr and praised him in the presence of his confreres . He felt compelled to spread this happy news and put these events in writing on March 19, 1655 when he communicated all of this to Father Ozenne in Poland. At the same time he asked the missionary to communicate this news to the queen, Louise-Marie de Gonzague (CCD:V:337-340).
Father Le Vacher, in his letter to the Cardinals, submitted his account of these events and included a painting done by the French slave, Bonuallot, who depicted his death:
I would have truly desired that this painting be done by more capable hands and enhanced with bright colors so that your Eminences could receive this and contemplate it with great sensitivity. Please accept this painting because I want to draw your attention to what it represents. Most Eminent Fathers, yes, this painting is a rose. This painting represents a rose, very pleasing and very fragrant, a rose not adorned with fading dyes but rather a rose purified with the precious blood of a martyr. This rose God chose from the humble garden of Majorca and he transplanted it in heaven, in the garden of eternal happiness. I say that God chose this rose from many others because here there are numerous Christians who, with the help of Divine grace, flourish in the midst of barbarians, just like the rose flourishes in the midst of thorns. As Christians we attempt to live virtuous lives and influence those who surround us by good example .
Most of the body of the martyr is found in the mission house of Palma, Majorca. Zealous missionaries have cared for it since 1750. It is hoped that the Church will officially glorify his defense of the Christian faith. A great poet from Majorca, D. Juan Muntaner y Garcíaa wrote an epitaph and we highlight here the following lines:
Yes, the members of his body are spread over the earth To serve as food for savage beasts, But a loving son of Vincent de Paul Gathers up this body and presents him to the Father. For a hundred years Paris has guarded this treasure And today preserves with love this young man from Majorca.
In this tomb his bones rest Burned for the faith they now await the day When in the midst of the heavenly splendor They will rejoice in the reward of eternal glory.
Pedro Borguny is without a doubt a mature fruit of the missionary work of the sons of Saint Vincent in Argel. On October 2, 2010 Jesus Murgui Soriano, the Bishop of Mallorca, signed the decree to initiate the Cause of the Cannonization of Pedro Borguny.
 In February 1655 Philippe Le Vacher sent a report to the Propagation of Faith in Rome.
 Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God: Vincent de Paul, New City Press, New York, 1993, Volume II, p. 99-102.
 Archives of the Propagation of Faith, Volume 248, f. 140.
Translated Charles T. Plock