PART ELEVEN: The Remarkable Example of the Constancy of Two Young Slaves, the One from France, the Other from England
This account is tragic, but nevertheless considerably edifying. It enables us to see the great fruits which the priests of the Congregation of the Mission, animated with the spirit and zeal of Monsieur Vincent, gathered in these infidel lands. We owe our information to a letter written by Monsieur le Vacher to Monsieur Vincent in 1648, of which the following is the substance.
There were in the city of Tunis two young boys of around fifteen years of age, one French, and the other English. Pirates had captured both of them, and brought them back to Barbary for sale into slavery. Although they were in two different households, they lived near each other. Their closeness in age and their common fate brought about a close friendship that bound them together as closely as brothers.
The English boy was a Lutheran, but he was won to the Church by his friend, a good Catholic. He was instructed by Monsieur le Vacher, abjured his heresy, and became a member of the Catholic Church. Then some English merchants, Protestants themselves, came to Tunis to ransom the slaves of their nation and religion. This young man boldly announced that he was a Catholic by the grace of God, and that he preferred to spend his entire life as a slave rather than secure his freedom by denying his faith. He courageously refused the offer of liberation, so ardently desired by all who endured slavery among the Turks. He judged it preferable to be maltreated and afflicted in fidelity to Jesus Christ, and to suffer all the ills of slavery rather than to fail in faithfulness to his Savior. This was the admirable effect of the grace of Jesus Christ in these two young men, who had received the word of God sown in their hearts by this good priest of the Mission. They displayed fruits ordinarily not seen, even in those who have passed their entire lives in the practice of virtue.
Continuing in their slavery, the two continued to see each other often. They encouraged each other to fidelity in their faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of whatever might be done to them to force them to renounce their beliefs. It seemed that God was preparing them for their trial, since their owners, moved by the evil spirit, redoubled their efforts to have them deny their faith in Jesus Christ. They carried their evil designs to such an extent that several times they beat the young men inhumanly, and left them on the ground nearly half dead.
One day the English boy stopped by for a visit, as he often did, since they lived so close to one another. They often spoke together for mutual support and consolation, in recounting what they had to endure for the sake of the Lord. He came upon his friend lying on the ground. He called to him by name, to see if he were dead or alive. The first words he said when he regained enough strength to speak, were, “I am a Christian, and I shall remain so for the rest of my life.” The English boy kissed the torn and bloody feet of his dear friend, but while doing so some Moslems came in to ask what he was doing. With fortitude, he answered, “I honor the limbs which have suffered for Jesus Christ, my Savior and my God.” The infidels were so irritated with him that they beat him, and forced him to leave, to the regret of his friend who had been so consoled by his visit.
Some time later, when the French boy had recovered from his wounds, he went to visit his friend, only to find him in the same state in which he himself had been a short while before. He was lying on a reed mat, half dead from the beating he had been given, surrounded by some Moslems and even his owner who had taken part in the torture. The French boy was so moved by the sad spectacle, and so influenced by grace that he boldly came into the room, approached his friend, and in the presence of the infidels asked him if he preferred Jesus Christ or Mohammed. The poor English boy, even in his sufferings, answered in full voice that his preference was, of course, Jesus Christ, that he was a Christian, and that he hoped to die as one.
The Moslems were very angry with the French boy. One of them, wearing two daggers at his side, threatened to cut off his ears. As he came closer, this little champion of Jesus Christ seized the initiative. He grabbed one of the daggers and cut off one of his own ears, showing these barbarians that he had no fear of their threats. Holding the bloody specimen in his hand, he had the boldness to ask if they wanted the other ear as well. He was ready to cut it off, also, to show his esteem for his beliefs, and resolve to die rather than to give up his faith. The dagger, however, was wrenched from his hand.
The courage of these two young Christians so greatly astonished these infidels that they lost all hope of making them abandon their faith in Jesus Christ. Because of this, the Moslems never spoke to them again about it. The next year, after they proved their fidelity and constancy, God called them both to himself, on the occasion of a plague. This completed the purification of their souls, and made them ready for the crown prepared for them in heaven.1