Chronology of Catholic Dioceses:Notes on the Apostolic Vicariate of Sudan or Central Africa, 1846-1866-1872

It is not clear whether Rome decided to erect the Vicariate Apostolic of Central Africa either at the instigation of Father Ryllo, a missionary in Syria, or thanks to the work of Father Casolani, a Maltese priest, who had made a special study of the geography of Cental Africa. Anyhow, the latter was asked by the Propaganda Fide to furnish the urgently needed documentation regarding the unknown interior.

According to him there were two ways to penetrate into the interior: one leading from the Atlantic coast and the other from Northern Africa. He judged the road from Tripoli to be the safer one and therefore suggested that the Propaganda enlarged the existing Prefecture Apostolic of Tripoli with the Sahara, and to use the Prefecture as a base for further missionary undertaking.

When he made clear that he would accept the leadership of a new expedition, he was appointed vicar apostolic of a new vicariate. It became an independent circumscription, including also the Eastern Sudan, bordering on the Vicariate Apostolic of Egypt and Arabia and the Prefecture Apostolic of Abyssinia (Brief: "Ex debito pastoralis officii" of Pope Gregory XVI, 3 April 1846).

The erection of the vicariate, independent of the Prefecture Apostolic of Tripoli ans including the Eastern Sudan, came as a surprise.

It was on 26 January 1846 that the Congregatio Generalis with the approval of Pope Gregory XVI decided to start a reconnoitering expedition in Central Africa. Nevertheless, the decree of erection was issued two months later, and this emphasized the clear intention of the Propaganda to start the mission at once.

Originally Casolani's attention was directed to the western part of the vicariate only; he intended to explore the Kingdoms of Bournou, Niffe, Hausa, Bambara and the much-discussed town of Timbuktu.

The inclusion of the eastern part brought about a change in his plans and he diverted his attention eastward. He now considered the way along the Nile in order to reach Central Africa easier than the route across the Sahara desert.

The wavering and puzzling attitude of Casolani in the execution of his mission caused Father Ryllo to become the leader of this group. Father Ryllo died, and was succeeded by Father Ignace Knoblecher of the Austrian Instutute "Marien-Verein", which adopted the mission and sent more missionaries as well as financial support.

The missionaries succeeded in opening the centres of Khartoum, Gondokoro and Holy Cross, but all efforts proved to be in vain due to the loss of workers in the merciless climate.

Don Mazza of the Verona Institute came to the rescue, but it only proved the stay of execution. In 1860 the vicariate was in a desperate position, and the only solution to meet the desperate situation was judged to be the handing over of the mission to a religious congregation.

As a last resort Propaganda called in the Franciscans to whom the vicariate was formally transferred in 1861. This too proved to be a makeshift measure, and when in 1866 the last station was closed, the Vicariate of Egypt took over the administration of the Vicariate Apostolic of Central Africa. The devoted service of half a generation of many a human life seemed to have ended in failure. In the same year 1866, Cardinal Lavigerie accepted the care of the western part of the vicariate, which became the Prefecture Apostolic of the Sahara.

Msgr. Daniel Comboni became the champion of the cause of the Vicariate Apostolic of Central Africa; he worked unceasingly for the reopening of the mission. Finally, in 1872, he and his followers of the Verona Institute "pro missionibus apud nigritos" started work in the re-established vicariate, which had been reduced in size by the creation of the Prefecture Apostolic of the Sahara.

(Based on Huiskamp 1994, p. 43-44, and on information from Bob Hilkens, DHGE, and theweb site of the Catholic Church of Sudan of Sudan.)

- CT

av Webmaster publisert 08.09.2004, sist endret 08.09.2004 - 12:10