AFRICA/SIERRA LEONE-Father Balthazar Barreira: the first missionary in West Africa

Freetown (Agenzia Fides) - On July 25, 1605, feast of St. James the Apostle, the first missionary in West Africa, the initiator of the African missions in that corner of the planet: father Balthazar Barreira landed in Pogam, in the lands of Sierra Leone. A Jesuit who strongly influenced history and has undoubtedly shaped the course of events. Without the presence of Fr. Barreira, the history of Sierra Leone would certainly be different.
Barreira came from Portugal in 1604, after working in the Kingdom of Congo. He has a real mandate, and the Superior General of the Society of Jesus assigns him the archipelago of Cape Verde. Besides him, who is the person responsible, there are three other colleagues with the task of organizing a college and to take care of the inhabitants of those lands.
When a group fails, Fr. Barreira decides to carry out an exploration of the coast and visits the settlements, and finally in Sierra Leone he decides to stay for three years. In this land - described by the Phoenicians explorers since ancient times- he meets the brilliant heirs of the Mani conquerors ( warrior people, from the Empire of Mali), who welcome him with enthusiasm and make themselves particularly available to follow him in the Christian religion. In a short time, several kings, families, and authorities of these communities, submitted in the form of allegiance to an emperor located at Cape Mount, are baptized.
So for these people on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, an era of happy life and particularly intense Christian influence begins. This new form of life, conditions and changes - in different ways - many aspects of social life and culture of those peoples and places the indelible seed of Christianity. A seed that will not always be an easy life and will often have to endure the fierce confrontation with the ruthless and often competing Muslim (the wars of the Jihad of the sword).
Father Barreira, with his annual report sent to his superiors, tells and spreads rumors of the wonderful transformation of those African kingdoms in the Christian community, open and dynamic. These reports are published and translated also into French, so as to reach every corner of the earth.
On the anniversary of his arrival, the Church of Sierra Leone is particularly grateful to its "missionary patriarch" and remembers him with particular affection. So many signs of life and history of today have in Fr. Barreira a connection or a justification, and in schools. The example of his experience stimulates new Christian operators who animate the Church of Sierra Leone today. (G.C.) (Agenzia Fides 11/07/2011)

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