Br Marie-Nizier to Fr Colin, Futuna, 24 May 1846
AM 374-379. APM OW 208 Delorme,Marie-Nizier.
Clisby Letter 63. Girard doc. 512
On the death of Chanel his little flock counted no more than 16 persons, all young, 9 at Sigave and 7 at Tua, though the conversion of the king's son, Meitala, appeared to promise a good harvest. By 1846 the entire population of a thousand and thirty or forty people were at least nominally Christian. This process of conversion had begun even before the Marists re-established the mission. Servant, in his history of the mission of Futuna, quotes a song composed between the time of Pompallier's visit to recover the martyr's remains and the permanent return of the missionaries: "[Chanel's] memory will never be forgotten on Futuna. Even before we had returned to Futuna, when paganism was still in full flower, the wife of Meitala, Niuliki's son, had composed a chant which the women performed with a melancholy air and mournful keening:
- Pierre, alas!
- here he is no more!
- Chanel came to see,
- but, the sad news is
- he is dead on Futuna.
- Why? Was he a bad man?
- Pierre, alas!
- here he is no more, alas!
- Marie has come to tell us
- New Zealand has embraced the faith.
- Let us do the same
- lest we be left in the midst of the fire.
- Pierre, alas!
- here he is no more, alas!
(PC 140 - Marie is Marie-Nizier). But not many of these songs have survived.
As is usual with long letters published in the Annales des Missions, this one has undergone some editing. Rozier has included extracts from the original in the APM in PC, including the postscript which recalls a few further details about Chanel (PC 157).
Text of the Letter
- My very reverend Father,
- What happiness and joy I feel today to be able to carry out so agreeable a duty as to write to you.
- I do not know how or where to begin to tell you about the new Futuna. I can call it that; I saw it for so long in the decline of paganism, given to practising senseless and ridiculous superstitions! My heart is moved at seeing the complete change that has taken place on this island, on being witness to the edifying behaviour of these new Christians. Not so long ago, alas! they ignored, mocked, insulted, scorned this religion which now makes them so happy. I love to hear them discussing the practices and superstitious customs they formerly followed, and I have heard them say, "I could sink into the ground, bury myself with shame, when I remember the follies and deceits we conformed to when we were pagans." While they abhor their past errors and are ashamed of remaining so long enslaved to them when they could have abandoned them much earlier, they appreciate their good fortune in being Christians. They express their gratitude for the great grace of having their eyes opened to the Catholic faith. Here are some of the things they say (I could multiply examples):"If I had been born in the old days," they say. "and died a pagan, I would now be burning in hell! ... If only my father, my mother, etc. had been baptised! They died at the beginning of your stay on the island and without knowing you, because we were so ignorant!..."
- Paganism is in ruins, but the memory of Fr Chanel lives on. The proof of this is in the words and songs the converts sing, especially at their kava gatherings. These songs they compose themselves and repeat in chorus recall either the instructions the good Father gave on the oneness of God and the principal truths of the faith, or some of his procedures for the conversion of the old king's son, and the almost entire account of his martyrdom. In these songs Fr Chanel is congratulated on having shed his blood for the faith; he is in heaven where he intercedes for Futuna; he is rejoicing in eternal happiness; he sees Mary!....
- Even the little children have preserved the venerable Father's memory. At the beginning of the mission's re-establishment, I accompanied the priests to various places, and we could hear the children telling one another on seeing the missionary's soutane: "There's Petelo! There's Petelo! (Pierre, Fr Chanel)."
- I must not pass over the feelings of affection and gratitude these new children of God have for you, my very reverend Father. With what lively emotion they are filled when they are told that in Lyon there is a "Father who has authority over the other Fathers", who sends the latter to the distant islands to bring them happiness, even at the price of their own lives. The last words are no exaggeration - they are well aware of that. The heroic example they themselves have witnessed is proof enough. They detest and condemn the cruel conduct of the old king Niuliki who caused the death of their first apostle. This glorious death is not only a subject of admiration for them, but also a subject of compassion in your regard, when they think of how the news of Fr Chanel's death must have affected your fatherly heart. They also say that you must have felt joy and consolation on learning that the good Father died a martyr! "Will this Father with authority over the other Fathers ever come to see us?" they ask sometimes in their simplicity. "How much we would like to see him!..."
- I will not go into the details of our daily activities here. I have already spoken about them in an earlier letter. In addition to the ordinary tasks, we have to take care of the natives who come, or send someone to the presbytery as soon as they feel ill of indisposed, no matter what the hour of the day or night. They know from experience they won't be turned away. I am usually the chemist and sometimes the doctor of the mission. This person complains of a stomach ache, that one of rheumatism, another has skin disease, yet another a cut or a burn; they are confident that the remedies they will be given at the Father's house will do them nothing but good. Unfortunately, we are in fact extremely poor as far as medicines go, and it pains us to see these poor unfortunates suffer. We have obtained results, however, unexpected ones too, in the treatment of certain dangerous sicknesses. To whom can they be attributed except to the One who gave common mud the power to return sight to the blind? Here is a fact which, in my humble opinion, seems to prove it.
- At Futuna there is a fish known as "sue", the skin and eggs of which contain a deadly poison. A mouthful of eggs swallowed by a strong young man has been sufficient to kill him inside a day. This happened some months after Fr Chanel's death. A similar thing happened a little before our arrival in Futuna. Here's what happened just recently. A young fellow of about thirty ate, out of bravado and against the advice of his friends, five mouthfuls of the eggs of this same fish. He didn't have to wait long to experience the consequences of his folly. His eyes turned quite scarlet, his whole body became numb so that he could no longer control himself, and the pain caused him frightful convulsions. A child came to tell me that someone had been poisoned that morning from eating the eggs of the sue. I went to the sick man as fast as I could carrying a supply of emetic. Fr Favier was hearing confessions. The sick man took a dose of the emetic and vomited, but without bringing up the poison. I gave him another dose with the same result. I sent a message to Father who left the confessional to come and look at the poor man; he judged it wise to administer the last rites. Seeing the emetic had not worked I had the idea of making up an infusion of orange flowers mixed with a little jalap and I made the sick man take this potion even though he was reluctant. Everyone was waiting to see him die. But what was the general amazement when, a quarter of an hour after he had drunk the third cup, he said: "I'm cured, my sight has returned, etc." And he told how with each cupful of this very hot infusion I made him drink he had felt his strength returning. We couldn't believe our eyes.
- Sometimes I am asked to teach the converts new tunes and hymns. My pupils are docile and quiet; a look suffices to call them to order if someone forgets the rule of silence. But there is a lot of rivalry. There are some hymns that take a fortnight of practice, with an hour's class each day, before they can properly be sung in church. I begin by reading aloud the same couplet several times over, then I sing it by myself, then again with two or three of the better singers, and finally we sing it altogether. I am also partly responsible for training the choir children for the two parishes.
- A last touch to close my letter. As I am the only Brother on Futuna I am under the necessity of spending some time now in this parish, now in that. In one of the parishes there are some converts who do not let a day go by without reciting one or two rosaries for me during the length of my absence. How valuable must these fervent prayers be to God, addressed to Him by his cherished children on behalf of a poor wretch such as the one they are good enough to take an interest in!
- Please accept this expression of my most respectful homage. (I beg of you) a remembrance at the feet of Jesus and Mary for one who, in their sacred Hearts, has the honour of being, my very reverend Father, your very humble and unworthy son in Jesus and Mary.
- Br Marie-Nizier. Catechist.
- jalap, the root of a Mexican plant used as a laxative.
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