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9 August 1837 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Mr Claude du Campe de Rosamel Minister for the French Navy, Valparaiso

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, November 2006 - An alternative translation of paras 7-12

Valparaiso, 9 August 1937

I could not forget the kindnesses of the King and your own kindness. Here is some news about my missionary travels, along with the result of the letter of commendation to the commander of the French naval forces stationed in the South Seas.
I left Le Havre on the ship named La Delphine on 24 December 1836. Four missionary priests and three catechists, all French, were with me to share the work of the far away mission entrusted to me by the Holy See.
Your Excellency will perhaps have been informed of the call we were forced to make at the island of Tenerife, on 8 January 1837, because of serious damage done to the rudder of our ship. We could not set sail again until 28 February. Our journey from that island to Valparaiso was a bit long and rather difficult especially near the Malvinas [Falklands] islands, Cape Horn and Chiloé, but there were never any serious dangers. However, alas! the Lord in his adorable designs wished to take from me in this world Father Bret, one of my missionary priests, who succumbed to a sort of fever and haemorrhaging of blood after 19 days of sickness. We were then at 0º44’ north latitude. I very much regretted the loss of this dear colleague; but the faith I am taking to foreign and idolatrous peoples has come to soothe my affliction; those who live and die for the Lord are very far from being lost to us; their death is a birth into the happiest of lives in heaven where their credit in God's sight is powerful in our favour.
We dropped anchor at Valparaiso on 28 June: on our arrival I did not meet Monsieur de Villeneuve, commanding officer of the French naval station: he had not yet returned from his voyage to North America. As it was important for us to leave as soon as possible for the islands of Western Oceania, I did not delay in presenting your letter of commendation (dated 21 September 1836) to Monsieur du Haut-Cilly, Captain and the acting commander of the same French naval station; he made a record of the letter, which was also submitted to Monsieur de Villeneuve at the time of his arrival which occurred towards the end of July. It is satisfying for me, sir, to tell your Excellency about the respectable and honest thoughtfulness with which Monsieur the station commander and Monsieur du Haut-Cilly honoured me; they regretted not having a vessel at our disposal to take out to the Poupinet Islands which we are going to head for on the ship Europa which will call at Gambier, Tahiti and Sandwich [Hawaii]. Everywhere I find Frenchmen in authority, I experience the goodwill of the King and France's protection; that beloved homeland shows very well that the Catholic missionaries who leave her bosom for foreign lands are not foreign, nor of no concern to her. Please accept, you in particular, Minister, with Monsieur de Saint-Hilaire, Councillor of State; please accept my humble and grateful homage.
Permit me to set before you some thoughts which will catch the attention of the King and justify in His Majesty's sight a request I want to make to him through your Excellency. One of the great obstacles facing the Oceania missions is the considerable expense involved in the sea voyages needed to get these countries, and, when one has got there, to move from one island group to another. Enormous sums of money would be needed for that. If the Catholic missionaries had money in abundance, they would be able to give more scope to their zeal, because for them money is nothing, people’s hearts are everything. But alas! their funds for even the most necessary voyages are hardly sufficient! How much the French Navy would render them important service if from time to time it could make their journeys easier with its own ships!
Another obstacle for missionaries in Oceania is the suspicion that the natives in many islands have towards any sorts of strangers, and the cruelties which they sometimes treat them with. Very rich people, without special protection from above, would be victims of them like others. Alas! those poor peoples are, in my eyes, worthy of compassion rather than of punishment! For they are in deepest ignorance; they have never been enlightened with true understanding, that is, that which comes from the Lord, the author of all knowledge and the very understanding of men. Apart from that, the peoples, according to several accounts, have been victims of their primitive simplicity: too often strangers have taken advantage of the welcome they received from them by offending them with their behaviour, with their goods, with their liberty and with their own lives. So is it very surprising that some islanders, still enslaved to the inclinations of nature, are resentful and take reprisals? Let us allow religion free scope, it is the only thing that will truly heal and close up ulcerous moral sores. The nations which protected it in its great work will be, I am certain, blessed by the divine creator of society.
A third obstacle which can be met in several important islands, are non-Catholic ministers from a host of sects who try in every way to paralyse the work of true and legitimate missionaries. Now this third obstacle would be quite weak if the former opposed the latter only with a resistance based on reason and debate: Catholic missionaries would not be afraid of spiritual warfare against the teachings of the true religion. The very fact of their mission and the result of their work compared to those of the non-Catholic ministers exempts people, who had no need to be truly clairvoyant, from any discussion as to which side has the imprint of Divinity.
On one hand the natives see the abnegation of the Catholic missionaries, who have left their homelands for their sake, without having any commercial or political aims, nor seeking happiness in the present life; they also notice the unity of doctrine in those who teach, and in the newly baptised who conform their belief to it; they are witnesses themselves of the real change brought about in those who give up corrupt and ferocious behaviour to practise the virtues of purity and kindness; finally in their homes, peace, and the unity of minds and hearts reign where discord, division and cannibalism brought about cruel destruction: such are some of the successes gained by the Catholic missionaries.
But among the sects separated from the Church, what can the natives see? Ministers coming to them with wives and children, carrying on profitable business, bringing about no or almost no real change in people, often, after all, selling them Bibles with which, according to their principles, each person can clarify it for themselves and form their own beliefs. Hence, no unity of doctrine, neither among those who teach nor among those who listen; souls do not find the seal of Divinity there; they sigh for better spiritual food, which is not the literal sense of the holy Scriptures, but the true sense attached to that writing; which exists only in the Catholic Church, where along with the authority of the holy books is found a living authority which explains them infallibly, defends their authenticity and preserves their integrity. How much I am becoming aware here, to my consolation, that savages can, in their simplicity and on their own, arrive at thoughts of this sort, and express as a group their desire to have Catholic missionaries to teach them, they say, the real word.
Up to this point, sir, I have been concerned to interest your Excellency by setting out things which almost only concern religious matters, but I entreat you, before finishing, to direct your attention to a matter of justice.
Most of the non-Catholic ministers come from nations where civil and religious liberty are observed. They themselves declare that the peoples of the island groups of Oceania where they have settled continue to have complete national independence. Now, however, how is it that in Sandwich, where some French missionaries gaining happy success from their work have been driven out of the country by the instigation of those ministers, and the fervent newly baptised Catholics have been and still are oppressed in terms of property and freedom? How is it that Catholic travellers, especially when they are ecclesiastics, can only with great difficulty set foot in that island to go on elsewhere? How is it that recently at Tahiti some French priests, who had been staying there only a short time, were insulted even in the house of the American consul, who had given them shelter? The people of that island had shown strong desire and great happiness to have Catholic missionaries. But alas! their desires were not satisfied. The ministers of the sects are leading astray some of the chiefs of those natives by abasing France in their eyes and arousing in them fears from the point of view of the nation from which they have come, and extort, by all sorts of machinations, orders which are directed at Catholic missionaries and close to them any entry into the country. Isn't that self contradictory; isn't that unjust? I am sure that the nations to which these sectarian ministers belong must be very far from approving their conduct.
However, Minister, God forbid that through this account I wish to condemn to the anger of the civilised nations the persons of the aforementioned ministers. No, very far from that! I abandon this matter to the Lord who will judge all men and even their own laws. All I want for the mission of Western Oceania for which I am responsible, is that the Catholic missionaries be left free to teach and the people be free to listen. What have people to fear from Catholic morality if it is well understood and put into practice? Is there anything more appropriate to establish order, peace and happiness among people even when a mixture of different religions is found among them? Doesn't our teaching forbid all sorts of evil and does it not demand or advise all sorts of good things? And experience shows that real Catholics are always, in whatever situation they are in, people who are conscientious, and show probity and devotion to the public good.
The King of the French is, I know, convinced of these truths: when his Majesty did me the honour of receiving me in a special audience at the time of my stay in Paris, he overwhelmed me with signs of his protection and goodwill; letters of commendation were sent to me by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Navy. How much I remain grateful for these things! These letters have been instrumental in my experiencing all sorts of courtesies and kind assistance in Santa Cruz, in Tenerife and in Valparaiso, from the consuls and the commanding officers of the French navy.
The South Seas [naval] station is, of course, aware of everything going on in Oceania. If in future it was possible, at the station, as a result of previous arrangements made by the King's government, to favour the missions in Oceania carried on by French clergy, it would mean co-operating in undertakings truly worthy of France; that is to say, bringing to a numerous people true happiness and the best of civilisations. To achieve that, it would suffice if each year a ship from the already mentioned station could leave the American coasts to come and peacefully visit the places where French missionaries would be carrying on their difficult work and from where contacts with France are rare; in this way its apostolic workers could be carried from one island group to another without being liable for enormous costs. So I ask you, Minister, to set my thoughts and desires before the King, while offering him the deep respect and lively gratitude which his Majesty arouses in me, and the kindnesses which, together with his family, he has granted my mission.
Her Highness Princess Adelaide made clear to me in Paris her desire to have news of this mission: would it be indiscreet to ask you again to inform her Royal Highness of these things through this present letter?
I have the honour to be, with the missionaries to accompany me, sir, of your Excellency[1]


  1. the transcript of the letter ends here -- 'your most humble servant etc' or something similar would follow -- translator’s note

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