Br Marie-Nizier to Fr Colin, Futuna, 14 October 1860
The cause for the beatification of Pierre Chanel was opened in Rome on 24 September 1857. An official enquiry was conducted on Futuna during 1859 and 1860 to gather evidence that the ‘Venerable Servant of God’ was indeed worthy of veneration as a martyr and a saint. Marie-Nizier, who gave his depositions before a panel consisting of Bataillon as judge and Grezel as notary, from 28 July to 4 August 1859, had no doubts on that score: “I have always heard it said that he was killed out of hatred for the faith… I believe this is founded on a solid base, and my feelings are shared by all the faithful Christians of the island” (Rozier, PC 172). It was this inquest that allowed him to clarify the decisive role of the king, Niuliki, in Chanel’s murder, from the witness of the wife of his slayer, Musumusu. This is one of the reasons for his writing to Colin, whom he addresses as ‘Founder’, to complete what he had earlier written in his ‘memoire’ of 29 July 1845 (LMN 33-49).
The other reason was to send him a copy of a letter Bataillon had written to Chanel on 3 November 1840, and which he had made, with the latter’s permission, for his own edification . It concerns the war that year between the opponents and supporters of the new religion which lead to the victory of the latter and the rapid growth of the mission on Wallis. It appears that Ducrettet, having heard the story from Bataillon in Sydney, was recounting it to Grezel and Marie-Nizier, and this reminded the brother of his copy of the letter (Rozier, PC 52). The others then persuaded him to send it to Colin.
This translation of the text in LMN (pp 87-8,93) does not include the copy of Bataillon’s letter (indicated by the … at the end of paragraph 3). This is to be found in the same place on pages 88-92, and in Rozier in abbreviated form (PC 53-4). Rozier also includes the first part of Marie-Nizier’s letter as Document 16 in his work (pp 174-5). Neither of the brother’s subsequent lengthy communications about Chanel, the letter of Colin of 7 October 1867 (LMN 103-132, PC 175-219), and his ‘Memoire’ of 1869 (PC 220-243) have been included in this series of Letters from Oceania.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I believe I once promised you to communicate to you everything I could recall concerning the Venerable Fr Chanel. What I am going to tell you here is indeed implicitly reported in the memoire I sent you a long time ago. But I have since discovered the explanation of something that has been a long time, for me, an indecipherable enigma; and now I regard this discovery as a sort of sanction for what I said at one time, that we did not believe, Fr Chanel and I, that the menaces of death made to us, would ever be carried out. Here is the fact and you can judge.
- I sought information at first from the native who had been most faithful to us up to Fr Chanel’s death, if Niuliki, before dying, had given any sign of repenting, if he had regretted not having embraced the Faith, etc. He replied that in the violent sufferings the unfortunate king experienced he had heard him say nothing about that except for these words which referred to Musumusu: “I insisted to him not to kill him!..” I have been I don’t know how long without being able to find the meaning of this expression so contrary to what he told me himself the day after Rev Fr Chanel’s death: “It is I who had him killed..” It is a conversation I have had with one of the wives of the assassin Musumusu, the one with whom he decided to have his marriage blessed shortly before his death, which lead me to discover the meaning of this expression of the dying king. After a number of questions about what she could have heard spoken against Christianity and especially if she had known a long time in advance that they were plotting the Rev Fr Chanel’s death, she replied: “It is something dating from a long way back, the reiterated requests of most of the king’s relatives, to put the Missionary to death. (His companion would not have been spared). This white, they were saying, is going to usurp the kingship.. Our gods are going to be angry.. And what will be the marks of his authority. It is necessary to do away with him.” (What diabolic endeavours! Fr Chanel, as gentle as a lamb, had he ever done the least thing to question the king’s authority?) “How,” replied the latter, could I cause their deaths? I have accepted them, they are living with me. It would be better to send them back to their own land when a ship comes. We will take what they have and make their life so burdensome that they will be forced to leave.” (The unhappy wretch! He acted like Pilate, he had not the courage to uphold the rights of justice, and he knew it). I presume that it was at this period that we learned that he had forbidden his subjects to come and provide us with the least service and had not only authorized, but even commanded, that we be robbed (not by open force), anything one could get away with without having to fear his anger. (I think that you have for the rest all the details in the Memoir mentioned).
- The king was making allusion to what I have cited above, when he said: “I insisted to him not to kill him.” But he was the one who went to find Musumusu in order to confide to him the carrying out of the evil plan he had conceived on learning of his son’s conversion! There was, in his way of acting, an incomprehensible mixture of natural goodness and wickedness. His repentance, alas, having as principle nothing more than the frightful sufferings he was prey to, would have been of no more avail to him than that of Antiochus. He himself, as well as the inhabitants of the island, although pagans, regarded this illness as a punishment for his crime against Fr Chanel. His relatives told him: “You have no need to touch him, give your consent, say Yes to us and that is all that is necessary.” This Yes had still to wait some time. The good God was doubtless waiting to let the holy missionary gather the last flower to complete his crown in order to put him in possession of it in eternal glory….
- An unforeseen circumstance having forced me as it were to disclose the copy of a letter once written by Fr Bataillon (currently Bishop of Enos) to Rev Fr Chanel, a copy I made for my own edification with Rev Fr Chanel’s permission, I can attest I have not changed a single expression. On the same occasion, the Fathers asked me if I had included the contents in my report on Fr Chanel. “No”. They said that what had happened then on Wallis was Fr Chanel’s special concern since he was responsible for Wallis as well as Futuna in his role as Provicar Apostolic. This examination not being my business, I content myself with transcribing for you this same copy without changing it in the slightest. Anything you find underlined within brackets are my observations…
- I will not try, my very Rev. Father, to give you any details about Futuna. It is a little mixture of good and evil such as one finds anywhere one fights under the standard of the cross. I commend myself especially to your prayers and beg you to accept the sentiments of deep respect with which my heart is penetrated towards you and with which I have the honour of being, my Very Rev. Father,
- your very humble and obedient servant,
- Br Marie-Nizier cat.
- The beginning of the formal process initiated in Rome to determine whether a person of heroic sanctity or a martyr is worthy of being recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church. Beatification makes one a ‘Blessed’, able to be venerated publicly by certain groups or in certain places. It may be followed in due course by canonisation, meaning that the new ‘Saint’ is venerated by the whole Church. Chanel was beatified in 1889 and canonised in 1954.
- The reference is to the claimed deathbed repentance of Antiochus Epiphanes, persecutor of the Jews, in the Second Book of Maccabees, Chapter 9.
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