Saturday, January 2, 2021


The Catholicism in Italian Somalia

We all know that Catholicism (and Christianity) in what was Italian Somalia has practically disappeared in the last decades of the civil war in this African country. According to catholic sources there are less than 100 catholics practising in actual Somalia (mostly in the capital Mogadishu and nearly all foreigners). But it was not so "minimal" this number during the years when Italy had a colonial control of Somalia. Let me explain better.

As I wrote in wikipedia, Catholicism was introduced in Italian Somaliland in the late 19th century. Initially, it was only practiced by the few Italian immigrants in Mogadishu and between the Bantu of the Shebelle River farmer areas, thanks to some missionaries of the Trinitarian Fathers. In 1895, the first 45 Bantu slaves were freed by the Italian colonial authorities under the administration of the chartered Catholic company Filonardi: they were later converted to Catholicism and were the first "Christians" in all Somalia's native population, a country totally moslem since the early Middle Ages.

A sewing class for Somalian kids, done by an Italian missionary nun in 1928 Mogadiscio
Massive emancipation and conversion of slaves in Somalia only began after the anti-slavery activist Luigi Robecchi Bricchetti informed the Italian public about the local slave trade and the indifferent attitude of the Italian colonial government toward it. For further information, please read

After World War I Catholicism started to be actively promoted in "Somalia italiana", as historian Listowel wrote:

In 1903 the "Trinitarian Fathers" were the first missionaries to arrive in what was to become Somalia. They started teaching and providing social assistance to the poor and the sick. Fr. Jelib set up a leper colony at the mouth of the Juba river, and cared for about 350 to 400 lepers. In 1924 the Consolata Fathers and Sisters (from Turin) arrived; the Fathers to be replaced in the 1930s by the Franciscan Friars Minor from the Milan Province.
Italian missionaries promoted Catholicism in the capital Mogadiscio, but also in the farm area of the Scebeli river (where the Duca d'Abruzzi created a huge farm colony): many Bantu -former slaves & their descendants- of the area converted to Catholicism.

In 1928, a huge Catholic cathedral was built in Mogadishu by order of Cesare Maria De Vecchi, a Catholic governor of "Somalia italiana" who promoted the "Missionari della Consolata" Christianization of Somalian native people.

In Mogadishu, Consolata missionaries (in all Somalia they were 25 in total and additionally there were 30 nuns) opened a male school of arts and crafts for woodworkers, smiths, printers, mechanics, and shoemakers, as well as a female school for sewing and domestic work. In 1929, the two schools had started, respectively, a printing house, a bookbinder, a bakery, and a textile factory(please read

In the late 1930s Catholicism started to be accepted by some native Somalians, thanks to the "seeds" that the Consolata missionaries had created.

Indeed the Bishop of Mogadishu Franco Filippini declared in 1940 that there were about 40,000 Somali Catholics due to the work of missionaries in the rural regions of Juba and Shebelle, but WWII damaged in an irreversibly way most of the catholic missions in Italian Somalia. Most were somali Bantu, but some thousands were illegitimate sons of Italian soldiers and somali girls (who received Italian citizenship when baptized).

In the 1950s Indro Montanelli wrote on "Il Borghese" magazine that Italian Mogadishu in 1942 after the arrival of the British was an African capital where most of inhabitants were Catholics: he indicated that of the 90,000 inhabitants more than 40,000 were Italians, while inside the 50,000 Somalis there were nearly 7,000 Catholics (including the many illegitimate sons of Italian soldiers and Somali native girls who were baptized in order to get Italian identification). From this he concluded that nearly 3 out of 5 Mogadiscio inhabitants were Catholics.

But in 1954 there were only 9000 catholics in all Somalia............and in 2004 there were less than 200........Sincerely, it is an astonishing & shocking disappearance!

The (now destroyed) Cathedral of Mogadiscio was also promoted by the Consolata missionaries
The Consolata Mission

In 1923 the catholic Cesare Maria De Vecchi was named governor of Italian somalia: he was a strong fascist who wanted to "italianize" (in everything) the colony of Somalia. In order to get this, he invited the missionaries of the "Consolata mission" to come to Mogadishu and promote catholicism between the native population.

in 1924 -when arrived the Consolata- in Somalia there were about 1600 Catholics, almost all represented by Italians who moved to the colony - government employees, merchants, entrepreneurs and simple settlers -, as well as about one hundred Eritrean Catholic askari employed by the government for secondary services. Among these, the Consolata missionaries could have carried out a work of full religious assistance, while "among the indigenous" they should have acted "with great caution", because of the strong moslem presence in the country.

The following are excerpts related to the Consolata mission in Italian Somalia, from an essay written by Alberto Sbacchi and titled:

"The archives of Consolata mission and italian colonialism"

The Institute of the Consolata for foreign missions was founded in Turin, Italy, in 1901, by the generai superior, Giuseppe Allamano (1851-1926). The primary purpose of the mission is to evangelize and educate pagan peoples. Allamano believed in the benefit of religion and education when he stated that the people «will love religion because of the promise of a better life after death, but education will make them happy because it will provide a better life while on earth». The Consolata distinguishes itself for stressing the moral and secular education and its enthusiasm for missionary work.

In 1919 it entered Tanzania, and accepting a government invitation in 1924 the Consolata installed itself in Italian Somalia and in 1925 in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.


In contrast with Ethiopia, Somalia was not a priority of the Consolata mission. Instead it can be inferred that it was a means of fulfilling its aim of converting the Oromo to Christianity, entering Ethiopia from Somalia with the support of the colonia! government. Filippo Perlo, apostolic vicar of Kenya, sought and received permission for his plan by promising to conducting politica! activity in Ethiopia in favor of Italy. Perlo's proposals attracted the attention in 1910 of governar Giacomo De Martino, who considered the Consolata mission to be an ally of the government in furthering Italian colomal policy in Somalia.

The Italian government favored the presence of an Italian mission in Kaffa as counter measure to Great Britain's influence in Southern and Western Ethiopia. De Martino agreed with the Ministry of foreign affairs that the Consolata mission must be supported in its effort to install itself in Ethiopia to coordinate the Italian penetration between the sources of Ganale and Shebeli rivers and to consolidate the Italian presence in the lake regions from lake Rudolf to lake Margherita, thus facilitating political expansion from Somalia into Ethiopia. With the Consolata mission Italy would be able to establish a strong Italian presence in Southern and Western Ethiopia, stimulating commerciai relations. In return the Consolata provided Rome with information.

With the backing of Italian authorities, Perlo set up a caravan in 1913 entering Ethiopia from the South, with Angelo Dal Canton, Anselmo Jeantet and Aquilino Caneparo pretending to be merchants. They were stopped and retained as prisoners at Burgi under suspicion for three years, during the first world war, of being spies and hiding weapons. Perlo used the imprisonment of the missionaries to force a politica! decision on the Ethiopian government and on minister Colli, eventually extracting from ras Tafari permission to enter Kaffa. It took three years, however, for Colli to prevail over the Ethiopian government and to free the missionaries.

Photo showing (from left) governor Giovanni Ferroni, the Prince 'Duke of Abruzzi' and governor Carlo Ricci Riveri in the "Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi" (actual Jowhar). They allowed the italian missionaries (of the Trinitarian, Consolata and Franciscan Orders) to do some promotion of Catholicism to the native Somalian population during the 1920s.

Meanwhile governor Cesare de Vecchi called the Consolata to Somalia. De Vecchi believed that in the colonies the army must be followed by religion and education. The border land of Somalia, he sai d "the land toward the west [Ethiopia] is where the future of the greatness of Rome will come". Expansion at the expense of Ethiopia and bringing civilization to Somalia was the colonia! program of De Vecchi, which he hoped to implement with the assistance of the Consolata. In the governor's estimation the Consolata was indispensable for him because the missionaries were hard workers and loyal supporters of the governments colonia! policy.

De Vecchi and the Consolata made a list of priorities.Perlo saw that a church and a house for the missionaries were necessary, while De V ecchi's program included an asylum, elementary andtrade schools, housing for the half-cast children, and the provision of missionary help at the government hospital. However, Perlo complained that although De Vecchi had called the Consolata to Somalia,and the mission was under his protection operating in absolute freedom, his materia! help was slow in coming. On another occasion he reported that "the governor had many good words for us but he has not fulfilled his promises".

While the Consolata did its part in terms of religious, social, educational and medicai assistance, the Consolata felt that the governor was taking time implementing the promise for the building of a church cathedral and giving agricultural concession to the Consolata, to help the mission defray its operating cost. The colonia!administration was also slow in paying the subsidies on time. The Consolata received a yearly payment of 48.000 lire for schools, and 16.000 lire for the Hospital. In addition the Turin headquarter provided the mission in Somalia with a 50.000 lire grant, Propaganda fides 29.000 lire and Società antischiavista italiana with 22.500 lire per year.

To urge the missionaries to do more, De Vecchi promised to get 1.500.000 lire from the government for the Cathedral of Mogadiscio. The building, resembling a church-fortress, would reflect the architecture of the homeland of the colonialists, conveying a sense of strength to affirm the power of Italy among the people of Somalia. The church was necessary for the Consolata fathers because of the solemnity of worship, affirmation of the catholic faith, of patriotism and of prestige before the colonia! people. Having erected these major buildings, the Consolata also received 200 hectares of land on the Ganale river (Merca) to be cultivated with cotton.

An Italian professor teaching how to print to Somalian boys in a 1928 Consolata school
By the end of its five year tenute in Somalia, the Consolata mission contributions, with the generous financial contribution of the government, were from a practical point of view relevant, leaving behind a Cathedral, an industriai school, a school for half-cast children and an elementary school system with five classes attended by 2.000 students.

In 1930 the Consolata left Somalia and was replaced by the "Padri Minori" of Franciscan order. Officially the Consolata moved oùt of Somalia because it was involved in too many countries and did not have enough personnel for staffing its missions.

However, the Consolata was requested to leave Somalia by the Vatican's "Propaganda Fides" since it did not have enough conversions on account of the fact that Somalia was a Muslim country, but above all the catholic Church wanted to limit the power of the Consolata, by concentrating its efforts only in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Archival evidence, however, suggests that the ending of the Consolata operation in Somalia was motivated by financial mismanagement. Filippo Perlo had too much authority in his hands as generai superior of the mission. He in turn had appointed his brother Gabriele apostolic vicar of Mogadiscio and another brother Luigi, was the administrator of the mission in Kenya. Hence there were good reasons to limit the personal rule of the Perlo clan, for the benefit of the Consolata mission!

Alberto Sbacchi

However the Consolata missionaries remained in charge until 1933 of the "Hospital Giacomo De Martino" in Mogadiscio. Their management was directly paid by the Italian government under orders of the governor De Vecchi (who was nicknamed "Little missionary of Christ").