Five Faces of St. Justin de Jacobis


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The life of St. Justin de Jacobis, Vincentian missionary to Ethiopia

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Five Faces of St. Justin de Jacobis

  1. 1. Five Faces of by Robert P. Maloney, CM with passages from Marco Tavanti, Ph.D.St. Justin de Jacobis and Rev Thomas Johnston, S.J., M.A.
  2. 2. A Model for VincentiansIf I had to pick a single Daughter of Charity topresent to the sisters as a model, I would pickRosalie Rendu. If I had to pick a single missionaryto present to the confreres, I would pick Justin deJacobis. Few missionaries have been as closelyidentified with their people as he was. His lettersare filled with wisdom, deep pastoral charity, anda profound sensibility toward the people whomhe served.”- Robert P. Maloney, CMJustin de Jacobis recognized at the beginning ofhis work in Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) thatmissionary messages must take root andblossom within the deepest values of eachculture. Authentic and lasting cultural changeoccurs in respecting local culture, when externalelements arrive with an understanding and St. Justin de Jacobisrespect for diversity.” (October 9, 1800 – July 31, 1860) Feast Day: July 31- Marco Tavanti, Ph.D.
  3. 3. 1. An Ethiopian to theEthiopians, an Eritreanto the EritreansFr. Robert Maloney recalls: “A fewyears ago I was driving with twofriends through the hills outsideRome near Frascati. There wediscovered a pretty little churchhidden among the trees. Wedecided to visit it. Inside, to mygreat surprise, I found a statue ofSt. Justin De Jacobis. While I wasexplaining to my friends who hewas and what he had done, anEthiopian Capuchin came up frombehind and asked me: ‘Do youknow our saint?’ I remained struckby the words ‘our saint’. Thiswould surely have been the way inwhich St. Justin himself wouldhave wanted to be remembered.”
  4. 4. 1. An Ethiopian to theEthiopians, an Eritreanto the EritreansIn his discourse to the Christians ofAdwa, Justin said of himself: “Whopossesses this heart of mine? Godand the Christian people of Ethiopia.You are my friends, you are my family,you are my brothers and sisters, youare my father, you are my mother… Ishall always do what pleases you. Doyou want me to stay in this region? Ishall stay here. Do you want me to goaway from here? I shall leave. Do youwant me to be silent? I shall besilent… Do you want me to celebrateMass? I shall do so. Do you not wantit? I shall not celebrate. Do you wantme to hear confessions? I shall do it.Do you not want me to preach? I shallnot preach.”
  5. 5. 1. An Ethiopian to theEthiopians, an Eritreanto the EritreansFr. Robert Maloney tells the story:“An Ethiopian seminarian with whomI lived in the United States paid St.Justin the ultimate compliment. Hetold me that he had known aboutJustin De Jacobis for more than 15years when he was a boy at homeand when he was in the minorseminary. But it was only when hewent to the university that herealized that Justin was an Italian!Justin was so inculturated and sorooted in the hearts of the people ofEthiopia and Eritrea that this youngman had taken it for granted that hewas ‘one of us’.”
  6. 6. 2. Formator of the ClergyUnfortunately, many missionaries whowent to new territories did not see theneed for forming an indigenous clergy.Many tried to transplant a European-type church from their native countriesto mission lands and to convince theirhearers to become Catholics, modoeuropeo, but they failed to root theCatholic Church within the culturalcontext of the people. Justin wasdetermined not to commit the samemistake and focused his energies onthe formation of native clergy. Hewrote to his superiors: “It is morefruitful and successful to deal with thenative priests than with the Europeanmissionaries who are not familiar withthe local and social cultures of thenative people.”
  7. 7. 2. Formator of the ClergyQuickly impressed by the intellectualcapacity of the seminarians and theirknowledge of the local languages andsocial context, Justin devoted himselfenergetically to their formation. Thestudents, for their part, saw thededication, love, and availability oftheir formator. Because of the mutualrespect that grew up, manyseminarians remained loyal to Justinthroughout his life, overcoming allsorts of obstacles and evenpersecution. The native clergyprepared by De Jacobis became thebackbone of the Catholic community.Justin valued his native priests highly.He stated: “They are my eyes, mymouth, my hands and my feet. Theydo what I cannot do and they dobetter than me what I do myself …”
  8. 8. 2. Formator of the ClergyJustin’s main opponents were someof the Orthodox clergy. Yet, hepersistently continued to love andrespect them. The door of hisresidence stood open to them. Hisinterest was unity, which he believedto be largely present already. Herefused to be drawn into futiletheological discussions. He would notallow his confreres or his students tocriticize them. When the Orthodoxclergy allowed him, he joined them intheir prayer and liturgical services, aswell as social gatherings. From hisside, Justin invited some of theOrthodox to teach his studentsliturgical music and prayers. Hevisited many of their monasteries inorder to deepen his knowledge oftheir formation and their way of life.
  9. 9. 2. Formator of the ClergySt. Justin, in an attempt to resolve theshortage of Catholic priests, plannedto send some of his seminarians toEgypt for further training andordination to the priesthood. However,Guglielmo Massaia, who would laterbecome cardinal, had just arrived asApostolic Prefect of the southern partof Ethiopia. He visited Guala in 1846and the following year ordained newpriests and received into the CatholicChurch others who had beenexercising their ministry in theOrthodox Church. There were 15altogether. This event gavetremendous momentum to DeJacobis’ apostolic efforts. The newCatholic priests were assigned todifferent villages and the Catholic faithbegan to thrive.
  10. 10. 2. Formator of the ClergyDuring Justin’s ministry 35 Ethiopianand Eritrean Catholic priests wereordained, 18 celibate and 17 married.He was concerned about theformation of these diocesan priestsright to the end. On July 31, 1860, justthree hours before his death, hegathered his disciples around him andtold them: “...I say good-bye to you.Drive far from your house all calumnyand bickering, love one another,remain firm in the faith and above all,practice charity. Be the light of yourpeople.” He called the seminarians tohis bedside and said: “Since God haschosen you, be careful to follow thetrue path. I propose to you as yourmodels the monks. They are good andthey are the light which illuminatesyou. Follow their example.”
  11. 11. 3. Fully InculturatedMore than a century before the word“inculturation” became popular, Justinwas a master of the art. He said to hislisteners: “If you should therefore askme who I am, I shall answer: ‘I am aRoman Christian who loves theChristians of Ethiopia.’ And if anyoneshould question you: ‘Who is thisstranger?’, answer: ‘He is a RomanChristian who loves the Christians ofEthiopia more than his mother andmore than his father; he has left hisfriends, his family, his brothers, hisfather and mother in order to come tovisit us and to show his love for us.’”
  12. 12. 3. Fully InculturatedJustin carefully recorded hisimpressions in his diary and alsowrote lengthy accounts to hissuperiors in Rome and in Paris. Thisdocumentation provides us with apriceless record of mid-nineteenth-century Ethiopians customs,described with a concern for detailfound only in someone who loveswhat he is describing. He givesinformation about countless matters,like dress, funerals, marriages,teaching methods, punishments, andeven surgical procedures. His diary isillustrated with sketches of persons,places, and things he has seen.
  13. 13. 3. Fully InculturatedJust three areas in which St. Justin’ssensibility toward his people led himto become inculturated in their ways:1. Justin studied hard and learnedwell the languages of his people.2. Without much hesitation, Justinadopted the dress of the Ethiopianpriests.3. Contrary to the practice of manyother missionaries, he adopted theEthiopian rite and allowed his newdisciples to continue their Orthodoxdevotions, even after they hadaccepted the Catholic faith. He didnot demand that Ethiopian priests beordained a second time in the Latinrite. He left priests free to use theliturgical books they had always used.
  14. 14. 4. Friend of Ghebre MichaelGhebre Michael was a pilgrim in life, arelentless truth-seeker. He became amonophysite monk at the age of 19(monophysites hold that in the person ofJesus Christ there is only one nature--wholly divine or only subordinatelyhuman-- not two), but remained restlessin his search for the truth. He made along pilgrimage from Ethiopia to Cairo,to Rome and to Jerusalem and on it metJustin De Jacobis for the first time. InRome he found himself very attracted tothe Catholic Church. Arriving back inEthiopia, he was persecuted by theorthodox because of his Catholicleanings and escaped to Adwa, whereJustin received him with open arms. In1844 Ghebre Michael declared hisallegiance to the doctrine of the twonatures in Christ and became aCatholic. Justin ordained him in 1851,when he was 60 years of age.
  15. 15. 5. Deeply human, deeply holyHis Human WarmthThere was a tenderness in Justin thatstruck others forcefully. He felt thingsdeeply. His sermons are filled withwarmth and compassion. He oftenspoke of his love for his people. In hisDiary he writes about his mother who,he was certain, was interceding for himin heaven. He tells of his loneliness ashe celebrated Christmas almost alone in1839. He describes the pain he felt atbeing separated from his fellowmissionaries: “See how Providencemakes us experience today all thetorments of mortal separation. … Ourhearts are made for loving each other.”Justin had the gift of friendship. Hebefriended not only his confreres andthe Catholics of the mission, but manyof the Orthodox. and Protestantmissionaries laboring in Ethiopia.
  16. 16. 5. Deeply human, deeply holyHis Works of CharityWhile still in Italy, Justin focused on thesick and poor in his ministry. In 1836and 1837 a cholera epidemic raged inNaples. Justin labored day and night toassist the victims. He forgot himself tosuch an extent that he often neglectedto eat and sleep. In Ethiopia too, herecounts in his Diary (I, 147) visits to thehomes of sick people whom othersrefused to approach because of fear ofcontagion. On the mission, St. Justinmade his residence a place of welcome.There the sick, the hungry and the pooroften sought him, and he ministered tothem with great tenderness. From there,he also went out to visit the homeboundand the aged. As a Vincentian he wasconvinced of the importance ofpreaching by “word and work”. Heformed his native clergy to do so too.
  17. 17. 5. Deeply human, deeply holyHis Devotion to Mary the Mother ofGodDuring his first year in Adwa, Justingave out Miraculous Medals toeveryone he met, telling them how Marywas the Mother of God and the Motherof all who believed in Christ. Heengaged in much charitable ministry inthe name of Mary. His listeners not onlynoted what Justin told them about Mary,they also observed how he honored herand prayed to her. Because of this, theycalled him Abba Yakob Zemariam,which means Mary’s Jacob.
  18. 18. “I hand you the key tomy heart...”Listen to the words with which St.Justin introduced himself to thepeople of Ethiopia and Eritrea:“The mouth is the door to theheart. Speaking is the heart’s key.When I open my mouth I unlockthe heart’s door. When I speak toyou I hand you the key to [my]heart. Come in and see that theHoly Spirit has planted in myheart […] a great love for theEthiopian Christians.”
  19. 19. He Was Very Much anItinerant MissionaryIn his mission of evangelization, St.Justin traveled from place to place.During his twenty years of preachingin Eritrea and Ethiopia, he coveredthousands of kilometers, visitinglarge and small villages. After heestablished a mission station, hewould entrust its administration toone of his priests or seminarians,and he would move on to newtowns and new people toevangelize. As soon as he arrived ina new place, Justin would rent oneor two small local residences forhimself and for those traveling withhim. Then he would invite the localpeople to visit him, to talk with him,and to pray with him as well.
  20. 20. Vincentian VirtuesJustin preached the gospel in sucha simple way that his listenersreadily understood his message.They recognized his goodness atthe same time. Wherever he went,he preached by word and work,showing great concern for the sickand the poor, and encouraged thesmall communities he founded tolead lives of integrity and fidelity totheir beliefs. By the witness of theirlives, Justin and his followersearned the respect of manyOrthodox believers.
  21. 21. Epilogue
  22. 22. Some Background onEthiopia• Ethiopia is the second oldest Christian country on earth and also possesses treasures from Muslim kingdoms.• Legend has it that their red rock- hewn churches were carved in the 12th century, after God ordered King Lalibela to build them and dispatched a team of angels to help him.• Far from being a dead relic, Lalibelas churches throng with local worshippers on any given A Christian Orthodox monk leaves a rock-hewn day. Some read Biblical passages church in Lalibela, in this September 16, 2007 file on parchment in Geez, a 2,500 photo. (Radu Sigheti/Files/Reuters) year-old language. Others press lips and foreheads to damp walls, or prostrate themselves to kiss the stone floors.
  23. 23. Ethiopia andChristianity• The era of persecution, begun in 1633, lasted up to the twentieth century.• The story of the missionaries’ vain efforts is very simple and very heroic. An expedition arrives; penetrates into the country; scarcely is its coming recognized than its sentence is banishment or death. Yet the attempt is renewed again and again. There were many martyrdoms.
  24. 24. Journey of St. JustinBy 1839 Justin de Jacobis hadarrived on the scene and devisedfor himself a very special plan ofaction. Clad as a monk, heprofessed great austerity of life; hepreached to the poor, avoideddiscussions with the clergy,avoided the towns, endeavored togain general sympathy, and oftenentered the Coptic churches topray when no service wasproceeding. He thus succeeded inmaking many converts.
  25. 25. A “Living Sermon”Long after Justin’s death, CardinalMassaia, who had ordained him,stated:“To see this man, serious andpleasant at the same time, frugalin the matter of food, simple,modest and unobtrusive in hisway of dressing, courteous andcharitable in behavior, alwaysready to say a comforting word[...] to see him living a life whichcombined the isolation of a hermitand the zeal of an apostle, all thiswas, for us, a living sermon.”
  26. 26. Sources:Five Faces of St. Justin de Jacobis by Robert P. Maloney, CMCross-Cultural Vincentian Leadership: The Challenge ofDeveloping Culturally Intelligent Leaders by Marco Tavanti Ph.D. and Christianity by Rev Thomas Johnston, S.J., M.A. angels footsteps in ancient Ethiopia by nazret.com Vincent de Paul Image Archive