PART FIVE: An Account Given by Monsieur Vincent to His Community of the Martyrdom of a Young Christian Burned to Death in Algiers for His Faith in Jesus Christ.
All the acts of virtue and piety practiced by the Christian slaves might well be considered as fruits of the missions given for them under the direction of Monsieur Vincent. They were the effect of the instructions, preaching, and other works of charity of the missionaries. The word of God announced among them was a seed sown in their hearts, awaiting the hour of grace, when it would bear fruit worthy of eternal life.
Among all the various activities undertaken for the slaves, one stands out as heroic. One day, Monsieur Vincent recounted it to his community at Saint Lazare in few words, but in a way that showed the zeal that ever burned in his heart.
I cannot begin to tell you how touched I was by the accounts of the death of this young man, who, as I told you before, was put to death in the city of Algiers. His name was Pierre Bourgoin.1 He was born on the island of Majorca, and was twenty or twenty-one years old. His master planned to sell him into service on the galleys of Constantinople, from which there was little hope of ever getting out alive. In his fear he went to the pasha to ask him to have pity on him, and not allow him to be sent to the galleys. The pasha agreed, but on condition that he accept the turban as a sign of his accepting Islam. He used all possible persuasions, adding threats to promises, until he finally persuaded the young man to become a renegade.
This poor boy nevertheless preserved in his heart sentiments of love and respect for his religion, but fell into his apostasy by fear of the cruel slavery that awaited him if he did not defect. He let it be known to some of the Christian slaves who reproached him, that although he outwardly appeared to be a Moslem, he inwardly remained a Christian. Little by little, as he reflected on the great sin he had committed by renouncing his religion, he was touched by a spirit of repentance. Since he could not expiate it except by his death, he chose to die rather than enjoy a long life as an infidel. After he spoke of his intentions to some of his intimate friends, he began to speak openly before many Christians and some Moslems of his preference for the Christian religion and his disregard for Islam. He lived in fear of the cruelty of these barbarians, and trembled at the thought of what he might have to endure for his faith. “All the same”, he said, “my hope is that the Lord will help me. He died for me, and it is only just I should die for him.”
Moved by remorse, and with the hope of repairing the scandal he had given, he sought out the pasha to say to him: “You seduced me in making me give up my religion, which is the one and only true one, to join yours, which is false. I now declare to you that I am a Christian, and as a sign of my belief I reject the turban you gave me, and I throw it to the ground.” He added, “I know you can put me to death, but that does not bother me. I am prepared to suffer torments for Jesus Christ my savior.”
The pasha was so angry at these words that he immediately condemned him to be burned alive. He was stripped, and then with a chain around his neck he was laden with a large stake, to go to the place of execution. As he left the pasha’s house he saw it surrounded by Moslems, renegades, and even some Christians. He raised his voice and said, “Long live Jesus Christ, and the Catholic, apostolic, and Roman faith. There is no other in which we can be saved!” As he said this, he went courageously to the fire to die for the faith of Jesus Christ.
What moved me most is what this brave young man said to his friends. “As much as I fear death, I feel something here (putting his hand to his forehead) that tells me that God will give me the grace to endure the torments prepared for me. Our Lord himself dreaded death, and yet he voluntarily accepted the greatest sufferings. My hope is in his strength and goodness.” He was bound to the stake, the fire was lit, and he gave his soul to God like gold refined in the crucible. Monsieur le Vacher was present, though at a distance.2 He lifted the excommunication that the former renegade had incurred, and gave him absolution at an agreed-upon sign, in the midst of his sufferings.
Here, gentlemen, is the way a Christian is made. Here is the courage we must have to suffer, and even die if necessary for Jesus Christ. Ask this grace of God, and pray to this young man to intercede for us. He was such an apt pupil of so courageous a teacher, that in three short hours he became his true disciple and perfect imitator by dying for him.
Courage, gentlemen and my brothers. We hope that our Lord will strengthen us to bear whatever crosses he sends us, if he sees that we accept them with love and confidence in him. We say to whatever ills that should come, to interior or exterior pains, temptations, and to death itself, say, Welcome heavenly favors, graces of God and holy trials, that come from a paternal and loving hand! I receive you with respect, submission, and confidence in him who sent you. I accept what you bring, for love of him. Gentlemen and my brothers, enter into these sentiments, trusting as this new martyr did, in the help of our Lord. We ask you to recommend to him, please, these good missionaries of Algiers and Tunis.3
This conference of Monsieur Vincent reveals well his guiding spirit, and how much he wanted to instill this same mind in his confreres, this spirit which is none other than the spirit of martyrdom. He wanted to fortify them from the attacks of the world and of hell, and even against the movements of their own nature, to make them worthy of the self-renunciation of carrying their own cross, walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
After the fire had burned itself out, Monsieur le Vacher went in full daylight to retrieve the body of the young man, to give it a decent burial. He wrote an account of the martyrdom, and had a painting made of it. He brought the painting to Monsieur Vincent on his return to Paris in 1657. He brought with him the remains of the martyr, burned to death for the faith, as one of the most excellent fruits that the grace of God began to produce in these barbarous and infidel lands.