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Paula Teu, PhD student: Crisis of trust: how the community of Moldova lost faith in missionars.


In the past decade an unprecedented number of scholars have focused mainly to study the activity of Catholic missionaries in Moldavia. Even though these reports have been researched many times, it still holds important, sometimes even unique, information about the past of some Catholic communities. Despite the fact that these accounts were written subjectively, it still capture certain social and political realities of the period, and have become valuable sources for Romanian historiography.

Before 1623, when the Congregation of Propaganda Fide founded the mission "for the two Valachias," the territory of Moldavia was under the attention of missionary orders. In other words, this country was already a known territory to them, the presence of Franciscan friars being attested since the founding of the state. Therefore, when the mission was founded, there were already a few convents of Minor Conventual monks in Moldavia.

The missionaries assigned to Moldavia arrived in this country either in a larger group headed by one of them who had previously visited the territory in question and had a few years of experience, or in a smaller group of two or three people led by a vice-prefect. After receiving the mission they had to submit to the prefect of Constantinople, who coordinated the apostolic missions in South-Eastern Europe. As for the order of which they belonged, the monks were under the obedience of the superior, but at the same time under the jurisdiction of the bishop in case of conflict. This created a hierarchy within the order as well as within the mission's territories, but in which discipline was lacking.

The role of missionaries was to fill the lack of secular priests. As a result, they were required to travel around the country in order to provide for even the most rural areas. However, in the case of Moldavia, it is important to note the lack of organization and shared confidence, which will become a defining characteristic for these monks over time. Moreover, based on this statement, it can be explained the never-ending controversies that arose between the members of the same order, or with the other orders, with the vice-prefects, archbishops, bishops and indigenous clergy. All these misunderstandings, which have not been without an echo from the Catholic population, or the ruler of the country, quickly eroded parishioners' confidence in these apostolic envoys.

Therefore, the lack of order and organization, the numerous altercations involving the missionaries of Propaganda, directly or indirectly during the 17th century, ultimately provoked a hostile position from the community. Thus, our aim for this speech is to present several confrontations between missionaries and the catholic community, the lack of organization in preaching the gospel, and also the great ignorance from some monks. Likewise, we will focus on some of the most significant factors that have caused the Catholic community in Moldova to lose faith in missionaries.

The main reason for the establishment of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide was the lack of an indigenous clergy and the radical reformation of priests, and where missionaries had to provide the necessary spiritual assistance. Between 1622 and 1626, the Sacred Congregation establishes a quasi-diocese in Moldavia, but the permanence of the mission in this space was never the main goal of the Congregation, as this was always a temporary structure. The missions' goal was to first eliminate any deviation from Catholic doctrines, and then to prepare a larger and more organized indigenous clergy.

So, one of the very first things the friars did when they came to Moldavia, was to remove all the reformed influences that were still felt in the doctrinal practices, but also on the behavior of local priests, removing them from the church. These actions infuriated the community, which desired priests who spoke their language, regardless of doctrinal differences, rather than Italian missionaries. However, a comparative analysis reveals that in the first half of the 17th century, the number of missionaries was nearly equal to that of the secular clergy, but still insufficient to meet the spiritual needs of the community to which they belonged.

In addition to the problems caused by the secular clergy, the monks had to assume the language in which they had to preach since entering the mission territory. In the early 17th century, the majority of missionaries sent to Moldavia were Italians or formed in that region. In these circumstances, they have been unable to communicate with parishioners since their arrival in this territory. During the period 1623–1650, most missionaries mentioned the problems caused by the language of evangelization. In 1630, the Franciscan Paolo Bonici is the first to report on the importance of knowing Romanian, Hungarian, and even German. In the same report, he discusses the poor pastorhood, which is shown by the fact that many priests have abandoned their parish.

Two years later, the same missionary writes to the Congregation about the need to open a seminary in Moldova so that people can have their own priests who speak their language, emphasizing the ignorance of Italian missionaries regarding the language spoken by the population. He also mentions that many Moldavian Catholics were converting to orthodoxy due to a lack of spiritual support. In addition, the vice-prefect from 1643, Fra Pietro Paolo Garivini da Faenza, writes to secretary Ignoli that he had to use a translator in Moldavia because he did not know Hungarian. In 1645, the Jesuit Paul Beke mentioned the need to know the three languages mentioned by Benicio a few years before, but he also mentions the need to know Italian. Observing the ethnic composition of the Catholic communities, mentions of the need to know the Hungarian language appear throughout the 17th century, even at the beginning of the 18th century.

Maria Holban accepts that missionaries communicated with the Catholic population in Romanian, citing the reports of Franciscans Giovanele Folca, Farncesco Maria Spera, and Bernardinio Valentini, who attest to having preached to the people in Romanian. It is obvious that missionaries eventually learned people's languages during the three years they were forced to stay in the same territory. However, we must remember that most of the time, the information in the mission reports was distorted, as they were writing for their own or the order's benefit. Bonici himself claimed that three years were insufficient to learn the people's language. Furthermore, the Jesuit Paul Beke stated in 1645 that the Italian missionaries did not know the local language and did not even attempt to learn it. However, there are mentions of the ruler being involved in the election of the missionaries who were to be sent to Moldavia on several occasions, which supports what Beke said. Teresa Ferro recalls a letter sent by the papal nuncio of Poland in which, referring to events in the spring of 1645, he informs the Congregation that, at the request of the parishioners, the ruler of the country expelled the Franciscan missionaries because they did not speak the language. The believers have also leveled accusations against the missionaries, citing both the language of preaching and their lack of interest in preaching in some remote areas. In this regard, Archbishop Marco Bandini has written on several occasions about the demands of Catholic communities against monks. He begins with the city of Bârlad, where the parishioners reproached to Bandini that the missionaries did nothing for them, finding the community without any spiritual support for a very long time. Accusations against the friars are also from the inhabitants of Trotuş. They refuse to be appointed a missionary in their parish, asking Bandini for a priest that speaks their language. Even larger Catholic communities, such as Baia and Bacău, demanded the behavior of the monks of Propaganda.

The people of Galaţi had also asked Bandini for a priest who could speak Hungarian because they were "horrified" by the Congregation's missionaries. Furthermore, the community of Cotnari accused them of greed, claiming that "the freedom of the missionaries, for whom nothing was unacceptable, increased." Here, they were referring to the fact that the friars, under the aegis of their status as Propaganda envoys, took from the community, in their own administration, several vineyards from Roman and Iaşi. According to this, we can emphasize once again the gravity of the situation determined by the pastoral care of the missionary clergy, who, through their morals, determined an adverse reaction from the Catholic community. Still, following the missionaries' accounts, we can easily see that the lack of communication between the two sides, due in great part to the monks' ignorance and their more worldly concerns, that led not only to the loss of the parishioners' trust in them, but also for their conversion to the country's religion, orthodoxy.

However, the majority of the accusations leveled against the missionaries appear to have come from the community in Iaşi, which has complained to the apostolic administrator several times. The death of the Franciscan missionary, Francisc Sigismund, who also served as parish priest, is mentioned in the first account. The parishioners oppose his burial in the church, for fear that, following this event, the missionaries will claim the church in the capital of Moldavia as their convent. We have another complaint with the occasion of the dispute between the Jesuit Paul Beke and the Franciscan Gasparo da Noto from 1645. The community asked Bandini to bring them a Hungarian priest who spoke their language and to prevent the monks from coming to Iaşi. They also expressed concern about the way their devotion to the Latin Church is fading, noting that they are abandoning church creeds due to a lack of a rigorous pastorate. Keeping the same objectionable attitude, the people of Iaşi demand that their church be left to a parish priest, as it has never belonged to any order.

The dispute erupted between missionaries and the Catholic community over the church in the country's capital. According to Bonici's report from 1630, a Greek boyar, Enache from Constantinople, built in Iasi a church for Catholics, half of stone, half of wood. Following this event, the missionaries thought it had been donated to them, and soon considered it to be a convent for their order. In Baksic's report from 1641, we find complaints from the parish priest of Iaşi, who, without any means of support, accuses the missionaries of stealing his parish residence. According to the same report, the parishioners rushed to his aid, complaining to the ruler about the Congregation's missionaries.

During Bandini's visit, the Catholics of Iaşi accused the missionaries of taking the church and parish without their permission, claiming that the site had belonged to the people since the city's founding. However, the return of the Jesuit Paul Beke in 1645 appears to have highlighted the misunderstandings between the Catholic community and the Franciscan missionaries. When he attempted to preach in the Iasi church, he and his companion, Martin Dezsi, were expelled by the prefect Gasparo da Noto and the Franciscan Francesco Maria Spera. Following da Noto's complaints, the events of March 19 reach the ruler of Moldova, Vasile Lupu. He agrees with the Jesuits, influenced in this regard not only by his Polish-speaking secretary, Kotnarscki, a supporter of the Society of Jesus, but also by the vornic Griogore Ureche. The claim of the church in Iaşi by the Jesuits is also made in response to community protests, confirming that that location was abusively taken over by Propaganda missionaries. In fact, in the midst of this conflict, the parishioners turn out to be on the side of the Jesuits, owing to the Hungarian language, which, in the eyes of the people, transformed the Company's monks into the ideal pastors. At the same time, they do not hold back from requesting that the Franciscan monks be expelled by the ruler.

Details about this incident are described in detail by Marco Bandini, who, while in Bacău at the time, recounts the events from the perspective of parishioners present in the country's capital. He also mentions that Beke told him about the events, which is why we notice a certain subjectivism in presenting the events to the Congregation. He, too, eventually comes to terms with resolving the conflict, giving the missionaries his residence in Iaşi. Essentially, the Jesuits were able to keep control of the church and parish, but they were forced to share it with the other missionaries.

The controversy is far from being over, but the course of it changes once with the death of Marco Bandini and the retrieve of Paul Beke. The remaining Franciscans continued their dispute with the new arrived Jesuits, from Poland. Regardless of what the community desired, they continued the conflict until the Community of Jesus was suppressed in 1773.

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