*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 9th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today we head to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, where they are (depending on where you are and when you are listening) celebrating a holiday- one that was officially celebrated for the first time in 2019 when Pope Francis made his way to the Island in honor of the life of Jacques Laval.
If you know a whole bunch about the Island of Mauritius and its patron saint, perhaps you want to find another podcast- as I think we might all do well with an introduction to both the island and the saint.
Mauritius is about 500 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. It’s about 800 square miles with a population of about 1.2 million. This makes it something like if you took Rhode Island and plopped it into the Indian Ocean- it has been independent since 1969 and is one of the wealthiest African countries.
Its history is shrouded in mystery- we have no record of ancient indigenous peoples, and only some Arab and Portuguese explorers made note of it in the age of exploration. Dutch explorers would first set up a colony and name it after Maurice of Nassau. It was taken by the French, who then lost it to the English during the Napoleonic wars. It was the home of the dodo- everyone's favorite metaphor for something going extinct and being forgotten [despite the fact that we don’t forget the animal that is synonymous with something being forgotten].
Ok- so now to tell you about Jacques Laval- the so-called “apostle of Mauritius.” He was born near Normandy, France, in 1803. He was the son of a wealthy farmer and a devout Christian mother, who died when Jacques was only 7. According to his own writings, he considered ministry but went into medicine instead. He lived a profligate life until a near-death experience, falling off a horse. In 1834, he entered a catholic seminary and was ordained in 1838.
He served as a parish priest in Pinterville- a rural community between Paris and the English Channel.
In 1841 he was asked to work on the island of Mauritius- which, despite now being under English control, had a number of French-speaking former slaves- (slavery was outlawed across the British Empire in 1833).
Laval ministered to the former slaves by establishing schools and medical centers as well as churches. His humanitarian goodwill was well received as one Irish missionary wrote back to Rome:
“I have never seen so complete a change in the conduct of such a large number of people as that which has taken place among the [former slaves]. Under God, the credit for this great work belongs to Fr Laval, the man destined by God to work the conversion and the reform of these unfortunate people. …With the aid of his confreres, Fr Laval has spread the faith and piety everywhere [former slaves] are to be found in Mauritius.”
He stressed the equality of all people and gave the formerly enslaved responsibilities in the church and society. He lived amongst the poorest and was known to fast whenever food supplies were short. Conversion numbers are tricky, but he is supposed to have almost 70,000 converts. He was so beloved that when he died on this the 9th of September in 1864, most of the island came to his funeral- his tomb has remained a site of pilgrimage, with one source claiming up to 8,000 weekly pilgrims still making their way to his tomb in hopes of a miracle.
Today there will be a procession across the tropical African island in honor of their apostle- Jacque Laval, on this the anniversary of his death.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Jeremiah 4:
“If you, Israel, will return, then return to me,” declares the Lord. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray,
and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
and in him they will boast.”
This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem:
“Break up your unplowed ground
and do not sow among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who reminds you that the Dodo is one of 129 birds that have gone extinct in the modern age…. Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who has spent far too much time this afternoon reading up on the dodo, a bird I first learned about watching the animated Alice in Wonderland- which is second to only Robin Hood in my pantheon of Disney movies. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.