AFRICA/BENIN - The letters of the first missionaries (SAM) who arrived in Dahomey in 1861

Friday, 19 August 2011

Rome (Agenzia Fides) - "The current April 21, which fell on the first Sunday after our arrival, a hundred people or more, between blacks and whites attended the first Mass that we publicly celebrated in the chapel of the Portuguese fort, until now abandoned. All participants received with real joy the announcement of the decision in their favor by the Holy Father, at the suggestion of the Sacred Congregation. And promise to diligently follow the religious faith that began to settle among them". This is what Fr. Francesco Borghero, an Italian missionary of the Society of African Missions (SAM) wrote on April 26, 1861, who landed in Whydah three days ago together with Fr. Fernandez, Spanish, informing the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples ("Propaganda Fide"), Cardinal Alessandro Barnabò. On January 5, 1861 the two missionaries, who were in company with a third person who died during the voyage, had left from Toulon on board the ship Amazone heading towards Dahomey, now Benin. They belonged to the Society of African Missions, recently founded, which had been commissioned by Propaganda Fide to evangelize those territories.
The name "Benin" has to do with the Kingdom of Benin and Benin City, which took its name from the bay on which the present-day Benin faces. The name Dahomey was changed in 1975 to People's Republic of Benin, which was chosen for its neutrality, since more than fifty different linguistic groups and almost as many different ethnic groups coexist. The name Dahomey was the ancient kingdom of Fon, and was deemed inappropriate to define the whole nation.
The regular and valuable correspondence of these first missionaries in Dahomey, from April 1861 to April 1862, who every month reported to the brothers in France and to the superiors of Propaganda Fide their discoveries, their work and the difficulties they encountered in the evangelization, is published for the first time in full, with many notes to facilitate the reading for those who are not specialists on the occasion of 150 years of stable evangelization in Benin (Renzo Mandirola and Pierre Trichet - "Lettres du Dahomey" - Ed Karthala). (SL) (Agenzia Fides 19/08/2011)