Saturday, June 9, 2012

"The first black bishop"

Pope Leo X

The following is taken from Henri Daniel-Rops' "The Catholic Reformation," Vol II:

"In 1484 . ..  a party of Franciscans landed in the Congo, and obtained some encouraging results.  Five years later they converted a local chief.  Then, shortly afterwards, the native king himself was touched by grace and received at baptism the name of John, for the King of Portugal was his godfather.  Eight of his successors were Christians  His son, called Alfonso, proved himself a sort of African Clovis, urging his people to conversion, asking for more priests (who were not always equal to their task) and protesting with Christian generosity against the shameful traffic in black slaves which was then developing with America.  Alfonso conceived an idea far in advance of his time.  Finding that many missionaries quickly succumbed to the climate, he thought of creating a native clergy.  Accordingly, he sent one of his sons, Henry, to Lisbon, to be instructed and ordained priest.  Now King Emanuel took a liking to the young man, who was indeed highly intelligent and extremely handsome; and as he happened to be sending an embassy to Leo X, to do solemn homage for his overseas empire, he entrusted its leadership to the young Negro, who was incidentally a good Latinist, and asked the Pope to grant him episcopal consecration.  The humanist Leo was curious and amused; he let five years pass while Henry completed his studies, but at the end of that time (1518) he proceeded without hesitation to make him Bishop of Utica in partibus infidelium, the first black bishop, at the head of vast Congolese territories whether baptized or yet to be baptized. . . . .  But alas, these first fruits were not destined to be followed by permanent harvests. . . . [T] he Congolese mission, though not completely abandoned, . . . vegetated, and did not really regain its vigour until the nineteenth century."

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