Carlo Zappa Apostolic Prefect of Western Nigeria (1861-1917)
The name of the missionary priest Carlo Zappa has yet to become widely known. The present text is the first biography to treat the amazing life of this missionary pioneer and is issued on the centenary of his death in Nigeria in 1917. Fortunately we have numerous documents that permit us to paint a very full picture of all that he accomplished in his years in Africa.
He was born in Milan in 1861. He responded to his missionary vocation by entering the Society of African Missions in Lyons and was ordained a priest in 1884. One year later, he was assigned to the recently-established mission on the upper reaches of the Niger River in Nigeria. He was to spend 32 years there, an astounding length of time, because at that period many missionaries died after two or three years of ministry.
In 1896, he was named the Apostolic Prefect by Rome and put in charge of all the missionaries in that area; thus, he coordinated the work of twenty priests and eight sisters. These pioneer missionaries were aware that they were undertaking something new, “We are here, the first apostles of the country, to lay the groundwork and to give our missions a strong beginning, on which the future of the Mission will depend.
He placed a lot of confidence in the work of the catechists in the villages and wrote numerous articles that highlighted the wonderful results they obtained and had these published in the leading missionary journals in Europe. His writing was remarkable for its freshness and sense of humor and obtained for him numerous financial gifts and grants that helped cover the cost of the catechists and their families.
He was intelligent and courageous enough to change his own policies and approaches, when he realized that circumstances had changed. Although he had long been opposed to the creation of schools, he changed his opinion and ended by fostering the growth of many of them in response to the urgent requests from numerous parents. He also led Paul Emecete to become a priest, in a time when few people believed in the training up of a native clergy.