The prehistory of the evangelization of Côte d’Ivoire

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The prehistory of the evangelization of Côte d’Ivoire
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Ivory CoastOn Oct 28th, 2020 the Catholic Church of Côte Ivoire commemorated the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries.On this occasion, through a series of episodes, we will go from Grand-Bassam to Korhogo to discover this wonderful adventure.Before embarking on this journey in the footsteps of the pioneers, Fr. Pierre Trichet retraces for us the prehistory of evangelization in Ivory Coast.

“It is believed that the evangelization of Côte d’Ivoire only began in 1895 when the African missions arrived there, this is not true.

Already in 1837, there were missionaries who arrived in Côte d’Ivoire but their stay there only lasted a few months. Unfortunately, they contracted disease and died; and so, the adventure ended. They were the Breton Capuchins, who came from Saint Malo or Nantes.

The second group to arrive were the Dominicans. They went to Assinie in Côte d’Ivoire in 1687. At that time, there was a practice which was common in Europe: the king of Assinie entrusted them with two young people to educate in France. One was called Aniaba and the other one was called Bonga. Aniaba and Bonga went to France and they were welcomed by Bossuet who was to be their master catechist; and even Aniaba had Louis XIV as a godfather. They later returned to Africa but there was no follow-up. 

Next we come to the XIX century. It was in 1840 that an American bishop arrived in Côte d’ivoire with French missionaries from St. Cœur de Marie, a missionary congregation founded by Father Libermann. 

And thus, in 1850, 51, 52, there were two missions in Grand-bassam. They opened a school; and their letters allow us to follow the school progress: with five pupils, then seven pupils; the pupils goe up to 10 then down to 8, etc. They also tell how they went to villages to recruit boys for their school. They talked to the village chiefs telling them that first of all they came to teach them how to live well; this is the religious part, let’s say with the commandments of God; But also, to teach their boys to read and write. A lot of village chiefs were sensitive to this suggestion and only entrusted the missionaries with one or two boys. Unfortunately, after a year, one of the missionaries fell ill, he was sent to Dakar (Senegal) for treatment.

During this time, the second priest also got sick and died there. His name was Father Lerré, he was the first Parish priest of Bassam and the parish at that time was called St. Jacques.

In 1895, we come to a period that were started by the SMA. The Sma has people available and so it continues till this day.”

October 2020, we commemorate the 125th anniversary of the fourth phase of evangelization led by the Fathers of the Society of African Missions.

For Fr. Pascal Accaffou, each step during this period is a step for all Ivorian Christians to reflect on their missionary vocation.


“The history of evangelization in Côte d’Ivoire can be divided into four main dates.

28th of October 1895 was the beginning of the systematic mission made by the SMA Fathers. This date should be an opportunity for our church to reflect on the mission.

The second big date is May 1st, 1834, the start of the native clergy that the founder of the SMA, Bishop Melchior de Marion Brésillac desired. He wanted his sons to do everything to train local priests. May it be a day dedicated to the priesthood, to priests, so that on this day, priests also reflect on their mission.

The 3rd big date is September 14th, 1955, which consecrates our autonomy, and the question is, are we really working to be autonomous.

And on May 8th , 1960, it is the consecration. I will say the summit of the foundation of the clergy, with the episcopal ordination of the first bishop and archbishop of Côte d’Ivoire, Bishop Yago. It is a date dedicated to the episcopate, to bishops. In Ivory Coast today, this an invitation to them to reflect on: are they really doing their job?”

With the pace thus fixed, let us begin our journey in the footsteps of the pioneers.

Brice Ulrich AFFERI

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