From Marist Studies
(Redirected from Clisby099)
Jump to: navigation, search

Br Charise (Jean-Pierre Gras) to Fr Vincent Codina, Upolu, Samoa, 23 November 1852

APM ON 208 (Samoa) Gras, Charise

Clisby Letter 99. Girard doc. 1200

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


In June 1851 Bataillon set out on a pastoral visitation of the islands of his vicariate. Charise accompanied him on the circuit as far as Apia, which the bishop appears to have decided would provide a more appropriate centre for the Central Oceania mission than the small and relatively remote Wallis Island. Charise describes the voyage in this letter, written soon after Bataillon’s return from Sydney, and in greater detail in his memoirs, written when he returned to France many years later and summarised by Br Avit in the Annals of the Institute.

The mission schooner left them on Futuna while it went to Sydney for supplies. When it returned, they sailed for Fiji with Mathieu and Augustin. They first called in at Lakeba, where they left Ducrettet and took on board Breheret who was to found another station at Somo Somo with Michel and Sorlin. Charise was not reassured here to find himself the centre of attention for a group of young Fijians: “One of them felt the flesh of my arm and legs and turned to his companions as if to say: ‘This white would make good eating!’ I was not proud...” (AI 3: 99). After setting things in Fiji on a firmer footing, they proceeded to the island of Rotuma where Verne, Villien and Lucien were in dire straits. Bataillon hoped their situation would improve in a year or two, but in fact they were forced to abandon the mission in mid 1853.

Their last port of call before Samoa was at Tongatapu, though in his memoirs Charise makes this their first stop after Futuna, probably by associating it with the incident of Fr Servant’s donkey. “We took Fr Servant’s donkey to the priests in Tonga who had asked for it. The animal was unknown in those islands. A huge crowd came running down to the shore to see it. We thought they wanted to welcome His Lordship - not in the slightest! The people, who are almost all pagans or Protestants, wanted to see the donkey and hear it bray.” (AI 3: 99) Bataillon made an impressive entry on the animal into Mua where he received the Tu’i Tonga into the Church on October 7th.

Juan Vincente Codina (1819-1879) was professed in the Society shortly before ordination in 1844. He was appointed the following year chaplain to St Paul-Trois-Chateaux, the place where Charise would have come to know him. When this letter was written, he was on the staff of the Marist scholasticate at Montbel, Toulon. This first Spanish Marist Father died in Spain in 1879, a few years before the Society established a house in that country.

Text of the Letter

Dear Reverend Father,
When I left you, you expressed the wish that I should send you some news when I arrived in these lands, and that is why I am taking up my pen today to write to you. You know my lack of education, Father. I probably won’t be able to give you as much satisfaction as you wish, but still I will do my best to entertain you by giving you some details of the voyage I have just made around the islands of Central Oceania with Monsignor on his pastoral visitation.
We left Wallis on 28 June for the island of Futuna. On arriving on this island, as all the inhabitants today are Catholic, His Lordship received the honours due his rank, at least the honours customary in this country. The firing of guns, shouts of joy, huge kava roots, roast pigs, yams - all had their place. As there was also a little band of Catholics from New Caledonia whom the Bishop of Amata had been forced to evacuate on leaving his Vicariate himself because of the ferocity of the savages, they too wanted to honour Monsignor Bataillon by some special favour, to express the joy they felt at becoming Catholics. They chose a display of Caledonian dances, the most suitable ones of their country. In the evening they gathered at the place where this spectacle was to be performed, some armed with spears, others with clubs, some with staffs, some with axes, and most of them with faces blackened. They lit several big fires and lined up elbow to elbow in a circle. The musical accompaniment was stationed on the right - it was simply a board which they beat with a stick. The dance also began from the right and continued right round to the left side. Soon all the dancers were jumping with the same movement as the stick, accompanying the rhythm with a low whistling which made it quite graceful. You might have said they were brickmakers treading their clay. Just as the dance was about to finish, the chief in charge, who was running like a gymnast from end of the line to the other, uttered a loud cry. The cry was immediately taken up by the troupe and the dance came to an abrupt end. Then they did a different type of dance. At the sound of the stick, everyone went ot the right or left, in any order, and all keeping their heads bowed very low, they marched thus in time (in measured steps), one behind the other. Here they were wearing a little clothing, but in their country where they are quite naked, it must be a funny sight to watch. Having had a good laugh at the expense of these poor savages, everyone went home.
A few days later, Monsignor started to preach a retreat in Fr Grezel’s parish and then a second in Fr Servant’s parish, and both were not without fruit. The good God must have looked with favour on His Lordship’s sufferings and weariness, for he wasn’t keeping very good health at that time.
When the mission schooner arrived from Sydney we left Futuna for the Fiji group, heading first for the island of Lakepa where we found Frs Rouleau (sic) and Breheret and dear Br Paschase. Up til now these poor priests haven’t been able to do anything on this island. The natives are still plunged in the darkness of barbarism, paganism, and in the following of the heretics. We left there for Somo Somo where Monsignor founded a new mission. The very reverend Father Breheret, who asked me to pass on his good wishes to you when I told him I was going to write to you, Father Michel, and dear Brother Sorlin are the founding members of this mission. Fr Ducrete (sic) has replaced Fr Breheret at Lakeba. The savages of this island seemed quite well disposed to them and ready to embrace our holy faith. Heaven grant it is still spreading there and that they acquire knowledge of the true God, for cannibalism, idolatry, and all kinds of superstition abound there. When the king drinks kava, a cry goes out from his house: the king is drinking, and that is repeated as far as the furthest dwelling. When he launches a canoe in the sea for the first time, two or three human sacrifices have to be provided, and when they have been killed the canoe is rolled over them. Then they are roasted whole, their hair singed and their body coated with coconut oil, and that done, they are offered as sacrifices before horrible-looking idols. Following those antics, the bodies are eaten amid festivity and rejoicing. Monsignor founded another mission at Ovalau where we left Fr Mathieu and dear Br Augustin.
On arrival at Rotuma we found there three more good Fathers and a Brother who were waiting impatiently for His Lordship to arrive. They were short of food, and footwear, and the whole island was at war and on the eve of a great battle. The Protestants on one side and the pagans on the other, and our good Fathers, who have been there several years without being able to get a hearing for the truth of the Gospel, were also in fear of their lives. Despite all that, Monsignor was still determined to leave them there a year or two more in the hope that our good Mother of the sacred and immaculate Heart would take their cause in hand.
From there we set sail for Tongatabu where the English Protestants have been spreading the poison of heresy for fifteen or twenty years. Despite all their calumnies and lies against the ministers of truth, the faith is making progress. The number of catechumens is large and Catholics already number twelve to fifteen hundred. Monsignor baptised and confessed many during his visit.
I am obliged, reverend Father, to abridge a little, to leave out some little details you would have found interesting, because of my occupations since I arrived in Samoa. All the Fathers are well, and Fr Dubreuil sends his compliments. From now on His Lordship will be residing here, and I think I will be staying here too.
Please accept, my very reverend Father, the very humble respects of your truly devoted servant,
Br Charise.

Previous Letter Letters from Oceania: 1852-3 Next letter