PART FOUR: Other Vexations of the Missionaries in Tunis
Although the missionaries at Tunis were not treated so inhumanly as those in Algiers, they also had to drink from the chalice of Jesus Christ and carry some small portion of his cross. In 1655 a false report reached the dey. He summoned Monsieur le Vacher to complain that he was preventing Christians from embracing the law of Mohammed and becoming Moslems. For this he was to be banished from the city, and prohibited from returning. Obedient to this order, the good priest left to go to Bizerte. It seemed that God’s providence had directed him there, for on his arrival he found two ships crowded with Christian slaves, whom he prepared for the sacrament of penance. The captain of the ships allowed these slaves to be unchained, at least for a while, during these functions.
When Monsieur Vincent reported this to his community, he made this reflection: “Who knows, gentlemen, if this was not in the designs of God to allow this disgrace to befall Monsieur le Vacher, to give him the opportunity to serve these poor Christian slaves, and restore them to grace?”1 He added that Monsieur Husson, the consul, remonstrated with the dey, pointing out that the missionary served only the Christian slaves, and that he never interfered with the Moslem religion. He requested that the priest be recalled, and this was granted. The dey ordered the governor of Bizerte to send him back to Tunis in a month’s time, knowing well he would be thought of as fickle for having exiled a person for such a charge if he were to come back sooner.
But neither this good missionary nor the consul were to enjoy peace for long. Another storm soon broke that involved both of them. This is the way Monsieur Vincent reported it to his community:
I have already told you how the dey of Tunis wanted the consul to go to the sail-makers of France to obtain some sailcloth. The consul excused himself from this commission. It not only was against the laws of the kingdom, but it had been expressly forbidden by bulls of the Apostolic See, under pain of excommunication, to export to the Moslems any war material that might be used against the Christians. Seeing himself thwarted, the dey had recourse to a merchant from Marseilles, based in Barbary, who agreed, despite the protests of the consul. He pointed out the disservice to God and to the Christians, as well as the harm to himself, not to mention the punishment he would merit if the king of France ever got word of his actions. Since these warnings had no effect, the consul drew up an account of the affair, and sent it here to France. The king gave orders to officials of all the ports of Provence and Languedoc to be especially careful of any contraband destined for Barbary. This action came to the attention of the dey, who once more became exasperated with the consul and with the missionary.
He decided to use the “affront” against them, a technique for demanding money in a sort of extortion. He summoned Monsieur le Vacher, and said to him, “I want you to pay me the 275 piastres owed me by the Chevalier de la Ferriere. You belong to a religion where things both good and bad are held in common, so I come to you for payment.” Monsieur le Vacher explained that Christians are not responsible for the debts of others, and he should not and could not be expected to pay the debts of a Knight of Malta and a merchant captain, such as this gentleman, de la Ferriere. He explained that he had scarcely enough to live on. He was a marabout of the Christians (that is, a simple priest, in their way of speaking) who had come to Tunis expressly to help the poor slaves. “Say what you will,” the dey said, “I will be paid.” With that he used various measures against him to compel him to pay this money. This was only the beginning of the story, for if God did not change the heart of the dey he would surely have resorted to harsher treatment very shortly. We may say that the consul and the priest now began to be more truly Christians, as they began to share in the sufferings of Christ, as was remarked by the martyr Saint Ignatius of Antioch, when threatened with martyrdom.
And we, my brothers, we will become disciples of Jesus Christ when we have the grace to endure persecution or some wrong for the sake of his name. The world will rejoice, the Gospel for today says. Yes, the people of this world will seek their own pleasures, and strive to avoid anything that contradicts their natural impulses. God grant that I, miserable man that I am, will not do the same, and will not be among those who seek sweetness and consolations in the service of Jesus Christ, rather than accepting tribulations and the cross. If it comes to that, I surely will not be a Christian. To become one, God will provide the opportunity for suffering, and will send it to me when he wills. We must all have this disposition if we wish to be true servants of Jesus Christ.2
Some time after this, the dey, who had always retained resentment in his heart for the refusal of the consul, Monsieur Husson, to obtain sailcloth from France, found a new pretext to persecute him. In 1657 thirteen Moslems had been captured at sea by ships of the grand duke of Florence, and had been taken to Livorno.3 When the dey heard of this, he called Monsieur Husson, and demanded the return of the prisoners. When he replied that such a request was beyond his power, since the Moslems were in the hands of an independent prince with no connection with the consul, the dey was overcome with rage. Refusing to listen to reason, the dey banished him from the city of Tunis. It seemed that the same treatment would be given to the missionaries, but it pleased God to move his heart to allow them to stay, to continue their ministry of charity and religion. Some time later the dey even allowed Monsieur le Vacher to become consul once again, because of what he had done for the poor slaves.