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Br Therese to Br Aquilas, Ouagap, 31 May 1860

LO 87


The copy of this letter in LO bears the date 1 May. This must be a copyist’s error since Therese did not reach Wagap until May 5, and this letter presupposes the one to Ladislas had already been written [4]. It must be presumed either that the initial number of the date has been omitted (as we have done here) or the wrong month given. In the cahier in the AFM (2), this letter occupies pages 104-108, coming between the two parts of the letter to Francois.

Br Aquilas (Antoine Rivat 1818-1885) entered the Hermitage in 1838. A participant in the General Chapter of 1852-1854, he was at this time Visitor of the province of Midi and resident at St Paul-Trois-Chateaux. Malachy (Jean-Marie Bajas 1811-1894), a Marist since 1840, was still director of La Begude, where Therese had done his novitiate. Therese probably called on him on his way to Lyon. But we do not know where he looked for Gennade’s relations; Terrenoire, to the north of St Chamond, would seem to have been somewhat off his track.

Therese paints a blacker picture of the state of the mission among both natives and settlers in this letter than in the others [6-11] and it is probably this Poupinel had in mind in his covering note to the letter to Francois (L 151 [35]). Pouebo and Touho, both flourishing stations, were surrounded by pagan tribes hostile to the mission. In fact, two years later, Touho was to be completely destroyed and Wagap itself saved only by the timely intervention of the colonial forces. In addition, periodic epidemics which carried off a disproportionate number of the new Christians (as well as many pagans) appeared to lend credence to the pagan belief that baptism was in some way responsible for their deaths. On the other hand, the figures for the New Caledonian mission in 1862 show 3,200 baptised, 2000 catechumens, and 4000 pagans well-disposed to the faith (Delbos 183). As for the whites, Rougeyron complains frequently in his letters of the religious indifference of the majority of the colonists, soldiers, and traders who made up the bulk of the colonial population, and the effect of their bad example on the natives (Delbos 105). Things were to get worse, too, with the change of governor. Saisset departed this same year after the colony came under the direct control of the Ministry of Marine and Colonies, and was succeeded by the fervently anti-clerical Charles Guillain. During his long rule (1862-1870), the mission was to experience a veritable persecution.

Text of the Letter

Very dear Br Aquilas,
Six months have already passed since the day you accompanied me to the coach and I have only just reached my destination.
I must thank the good God. Since the day I left you, I haven’t had the least worry, although we have run some dangers and sometimes felt great fear.
But it is always with that self-abandon, that peace which confidence in a loving Father inspires. To live if he wishes, to die if he wishes. And with these words of the Apostle: “If God is for you, who will be against you?” [ cf. Romans 8: 31 ]
I would be very ungrateful if I forgot you. But such could not be the case after all the trouble you took, all the services you rendered me in the last two days before I left. I have known you too long, so it would be impossible for me to blot you from my memory. As a good superior you have all my confidence. I will not give you an account of my voyage. The dear Br Director will have done so and I would be only repeating the same things. Dear Br Malachy must have told you that I did not find Br Gennade’s relatives. I gave him your letter and it obviously pleased him. I filled in what was missing for him. All the time I stayed in Sydney we had frequent talks together, but you were always part of them. When I departed I left him your address. I think he must have written to you. He is well.
Augule is working at his trade. There are no others you know. Br Germanique is still at Port de France. He has about 20 pupils, as many black as white. Br Aristide is at La Conception. He is also working at his trade and looking after the house. Three priests were with us two for Caledonia, one was left on the Isle of Pines, the other two at Lifou.
Before reaching my destination I saw all the missions except two. The people everywhere are the same, they have no faith, the thing they are most afraid of is going against nature. They are idle, carefree, fickle, ungrateful. They do not believe the poor missionary comes to bring them happiness, they think he comes because he has nothing to eat at home. If they allow the sheep in their flock it is so they can have the wool; that is to say, to get something in return, especially tobacco. That’s the main thing. They will offer to work for a day if necessary to get a pipe which costs next to nothing and a plug of tobacco the size of a finger nail.
They are frequently at war with one another and then the side which has the advantage burns everything and destroys all the main crops. The crops of the country are: the yam, which tastes like a potato and looks like the black radish you feed to animals in France. Some weigh as much as 5 or 6 kilos. Then there is the taro which is like a turnip and is eaten like the yam. Very often we use it as bread. Then there is the coconut. This tree is the real wealth of the country where it grows, for it is not found everywhere. Ordinarily it grows in sandy soil along the coast. It is a very tall tree with only a few branches at the crown. The branches are like cabbage stalks and the leaves like the feathers of the peacock. Then there are sugarcane and bananas. The latter is like the cucumber and tastes a little like the fig.
At Poebo they have burned down the church for the second time.
At Touo recently the Brother told me that he carried his gun with him in the evening when he went to say prayers in the church which is about 40 metres from the house. They are afraid of guns.
Ours are quite peaceful at present, but they have no time for religion. You can get a fair idea of these people. In the six years the Fathers have been among them we have had hardly a single Christian or even anyone showing an interest in becoming one.
The most astonishing thing is that in the missions where there are Christians, they die quite suddenly. Port de France doesn’t offer much promise for the future as yet. They come from France without religion, they all go to Mass on Sunday, and that’s it. Crowds go to the theatre but they don’t know what confessionals are. Three men made their Easter duties this year and Br Germanique was one of them. The governor has left for Tahiti and it is not known if he will be coming back or if another will come from France. We are waiting for a warship which is making a tour of the missions; it is the “Cassini”, the same one that brought us from Sydney to Caledonia. The frigates “Indefatigable” and “Latisbee” [La Thisbee] are still in port. The “Monze” has left for Tahiti with the governor.
Midnight is going to strike – that’s a good time for me to go to bed. And you, at this time, you are getting ready for dinner. I suspect you will all eat with good appetite. As for me, I’m going to have a sleep. But one more word. I don’t know if you have as much work as the good Br Director but even so, if I could receive news from you one fine day, what a joy it would be for me. While I am waiting for this sweet consolation, I commend myself to your good prayers. For my part, I can assure you that no day goes by without my commending you to the good God and the Blessed Virgin. I do the same every time I have the joy to receive Communion. Nor do I forget the community. Whenever I think of it I cannot stop myself saying how good it is to live in community. I entreat you and desire with all my heart that you do the good work more and more, that you form the young Brothers who will later be the pillars of this community.
I will not go on, my dear Brother. I would have finished sooner except that I wished to tell you everything the spirit presented to me at this time.
In life and death your very affectionate and devoted servant.
I embrace you in the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Br Therese

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