Fr Rougeyron to Fr De Meydat, New Caledonia, 26 June 1855
APF T 28: 379-382
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
In May 1851 Douarre lead his missionaries back to Balade for a final attempt on the mainland of New Caledonia. With the arrival the following January of the converts from Futuna, the future of the mission seemed assured. Despite the opposition of influential chiefs and priests, the ravages of epidemics, and the untimely deaths of many catechists, Christianity began to gain ground. But the position was still precarious. Douarre did not live to see real progress, being carried off by an epidemic in April 1853. He died before learning of the fate of three of his Marists, Roudaire, Jean-Baptiste Anliard and his coadjutor brother, Michel, lost off Tikopia, in the north of the New Hebrides, in mysterious circumstances the year before (cf Delbos 94).
On his deathbed, Douarre named Pierre Rougeyron as provicar apostolic. Rougeyron (1817-1902), a Marist since 1843, was, like his bishop and most of the New Caledonia pioneers, from the Auvergne. The Bishop of Clermont, who had sent them off, had a special interest in them, and it is to the bishop's secretary, de Meydat, an old friend, that Rougeyron writes this letter. But although he addresses him as 'dear confrere', de Meydat was a secular priest, not a Marist.
When Rougeyron took over the mission, he had seven priests and five brothers at three stations, Balade, Pouebo, and the Ile des Pins. By the time this letter was written, he had received another two priests and founded two more stations down the coast, at Tuoho in 1853 and Wagap in 1854. He was also expecting further reinforcements. Benoit Forestier (1821-1906) and Jean-Baptiste Vigouroux (1816-1898) had both entered the Society in 1848 before sailing to New Caledonia with Douarre in October of that year. Vigouroux had helped Forestier found the station at Tuoho before moving in August 1854 to Wagap in the hope of reconciling the two tribes who were continually at war (Delbos 99). Rougeyron writes that he had built himself a fine house , but he omits to mention that Brothers Bertrand and Joseph had gone with him to Wagap to do the building (Delbos 99).
Indispensable to the mission were the native catechists, many of chiefly rank, whom Douarre had selected from among those who came back from Futuna. Rougeyron refers to two of these of key importance at Pouebo and Balade. The first, whom he does not name, was Hippolyte Bonou, who was to play a key role at La Conception later on (Delbos 100). The other, at Balade, was Louis, who had attached himself to the mission in its beginnings when he was only about 10, and who had witnessed the martyrdom of Br Blaise. The catechists were to be the keys in the establishment of the reduction or religious colony the provicar was proposing to found [4 rf following letter 113].
This letter and the following were translated from the texts in Annales de la Propagation de la Foi. Like all the texts in the series they will have been heavily edited.
Text of the Letter
- Very dear confrere,
- Your affectionate and sympathetic letter has been a true balm for my heart. I needed consoling when it reached me. I was feeling more than ever the void in our ranks caused by the death of our dear and illustrious departed, and the loss of Fathers Roudaire and Anliard and of Brother Michel. Have the trials passed? It seems that ten years of tribulations should have been followed by a little respite! But the Lord judges otherwise, and that, without doubt, is to our advantage. Pray that our weakness does not cause us to lose patience and courage.
- Our missions are still under the press; our Christians are subject to covert persecution. There is no means of enticement the pagans do not use to corrupt them. At Pouebo, the senior chief, a pagan, has ordered all his subjects to put aside their rosaries; that means he wants them to deny their religion. All have refused, with the exception of seven, and of this number three, having acted under the influence of fear, did not take long to return to their duty. The inhabitants of neighbouring villages who have come to Mass have been whistled at and stoned. The women cannot go to church without the men's protection. By these insults they hope to provoke a war to wipe out our party, much the weaker. Fortunately we have on our side the second chief of the tribe, a very good and devoted young man. Up to now he has known how to thwart all the plans of our ill-wishers.
- At Balade, the situation is still worse. The senior chief, a Christian, is a man without drive. He lets himself be dominated by the bad chief of the tribe I am living with, and we can do nothing but deplore his weakness. There again, Providence has provided us with a protector, and that is Louis, whom, I believe, you have heard mentioned before. This young man, the first to join us after we arrived in 1844, I brought up, and he followed me into exile. Today he is a married man. In his quality as chief he has become someone powerful enough to oppose the senior chief, and he is completely devoted to the cause of the faith.
- You see, my dear confrere, that our position is no longer the same as it was in the past, for then hardly anyone supported us, whereas today we could put up a fight if we wanted to. But we have come to bring peace and we would rather abandon the field than be the cause of a war. In order to avoid all conflict, I propose to take my converts, about a hundred all told, and found a reduction about sixty leagues away on a pleasant plain where no one is living. These poor Christians wish to follow me there because they feel, like me, that if they stay among their own, they will be carried away by the torrent. If this first exodus is successful, we will try another from Pouebo, though without abandoning the station. I will inform you of the results of this project.
- I must tell you something about our dear fellow countrymen. Fr Forestier is at Tuo, that is to say, 20 leagues from my residence. His mission is doing well, whatever he may say. In the two years he has been there, he has converted more than two hundred natives, the senior chief among them. We have a herd of cows and sheep there, and soon, I hope, they could supply the main needs of the establishment.
- Three leagues to the south, at Nagap (sic), dwells Fr Vigouroux, still by himself while he is waiting for one of the missionaries coming out. His normal company is a flock of eighty goats which supply him with a great quantity of cheese made from their milk. He is a true Robinson [Crusoe]. This good Father, extremely capable at anything, has built himself a one storey house. Although in its infancy, his mission already has about sixty catechumens, but the tribe is warlike and much given to cannibalism. Every step you take, your foot strikes human bones, remains of recent feasts. Our confrere has more than once been threatened with the same distinction and with being eaten by the cannibals. This has not worried him, but it is certainly time I gave him a companion. We were compelled to make a foundation in this tribe before we were really ready because, since it is very powerful, it is a threat to the one at Tuo where Fr Forestier is. The presence of Fr Vigouroux prevents this misfortune.
- That is our life: many projects, some hopes, a little good, but great dangers and great trials. Please pray for us and get others to also. We are holding our place here only because of the intercession of saintly souls doing violence to God on our behalf. They are Saint Teresas who one day will obtain merit for the conversions taking place. Without the help of prayers and good works, New Caledonia would probably have been abandoned long ago, and there would be no mission of Saint-Austremoine.
- Yours devotedly in Jesus and Mary,
- Rougeyron S. M.
- Yours devotedly in Jesus and Mary,
- St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), reformer of the Carmelite Order, and a great contemplative. Fascinated by the missions from her childhood, she made prayer for them a feature of her Sisters’ apostolate. She was declared a patron of the missions.
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