From Marist Studies
- Two years after the Marist missionary venture had started, it still consisted of different plays, each on a different stage, with little connection between them. In fact the people involved in one place often knew nothing of what was happening elsewhere. Under the direction of Jean-Claude Colin two groups of missionaries had left for the South Pacific: the first one in December 1836, consisting of one bishop, four priests and three brothers; the second group in September 1838: three priests and three brothers.
- As it should be, Colin was the best informed. He had received letters from Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Valparaiso, Chile, Tahiti, Sydney and New Zealand. The missionaries had done everything possible to keep him au courant and by the end of 1838 all except the last batch of letters (sent in September 1838) had in fact reached him. He now knew that the first group had safely reached its destination.
- Colin had sent money (8.700 francs) in May 1837, after receiving Pompallier’s letter from Tenerife, and mail in November 1837, after receiving the letters from Valparaiso and hearing of the death of Fr. Bret. He had entrusted another parcel of mail and a large sum of money (50.000 francs, not counting other gifts) to the second group in September 1838. By the end of 1838 neither the letters nor the money had reached the missionaries.
- When the second group left, Colin knew that they would take nine or ten months to get there. But he also knew that letters could go much faster via London and Sydney. He could have put the bishop’s mind at rest by letting him know that a second group was on the way and by which route. Unfortunately, he did nothing.
- Christmas and New Year must have been difficult days for Pompallier. He will have held Christmas services for the Catholics on the Hokianga, perhaps he paid a pastoral visit to the Bay of Islands. But his thoughts will have gone back over the two years since he had left France. All that time, no word from France, from Colin, from his friends in Lyon, from other Marists, from his family. No word from Rome where he had felt so much appreciated. No new missionaries, no money. He knew nothing of what Colin had done, or of what was on the way. He felt abandoned and let down. His letters, begging for a response, for help, for encouragement, remained unanswered. Was nobody listening?
- His two companions did not seem to share his impatience and his frustrations. Perhaps they were less ambitious, happy enough to do the things at hand. At least Catherin Servant showed no sign of the mental strain that plagued the bishop. Unfortunately, the three had not grown into a community of warm support for each other. In fact, relations were strained and unpleasant.
- Bishop Pompallier still had no idea how his four missionaries on the two Polynesian islands had fared. Fourteen months after he had dropped them with scant resources: no word from them. They could have been killed, or they could have died of disease for all he knew, and he lacked the money to charter a ship to visit them.
- In actual fact the four missionaries were in good health and holding their own in an environment that was tough and strange, but they related well to the local people. During the first four months Bataillon had not even known that he had a confrere on Futuna. After five months Peter Chanel had been able to spend a month with Bataillon on Wallis, and from that time they continued to exchange letters. Since the sails of the Raiatea had disappeared over the horizon, the four of them had received no word from their bishop and superior; just a sailor’s yarn about a French bishop in New Zealand. Like him, they had received no mail, no money, no sign of life, neither from home, nor from him. Unlike him, it did not worry them much. Their work was not fruitless. They were slowly winning the hearts of the Polynesian people, by making friends, by learning their language and by being close to them in the joys and the sorrows of life.
- By the end of the year, the second group, had safely reached Valparaiso after a fast and relatively easy voyage. They were gracefully received by the Picpus missionaries and were busy absorbing all the new insights and perspectives of another world. Like their predecessors they were on the wrong side of the Pacific and wondering how to get to their destination, but at least, unlike their predecessors, they knew where to go.
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