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1 November 1839 — Father Pierre Bataillon to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2013

Father Colin junior, at the College of Belley (Ain), France
Island of Wallis or Uvea
near Tonga

1st November 1839

Reverend Superior
A little schooner, which belongs to these islands, is readying itself to leave for Tahiti. I am using it to risk writing a note. You know, no doubt, that I am on Wallis Island with dear Brother Joseph; the Bishop was to visit us after four to six months, and two years have gone by without his having given us a sign of life. Six months ago the new reinforcement of confrères came through here on their way to New Zealand; I thought it was lack of funds which was preventing him from visiting us, and as soon as the new reinforcements arrived, he would come to us, but the new confrères must have been with him nearly five months, and we are still without any news of his Lordship. I sent you by our confrères’ schooner a six page note – I think that the Bishop will have found in New Zealand a good opportunity of getting it to you. It will bring you up to date with everything that might interest you about the mission of Uvea or Wallis, and I am only waiting for the Bishop, to send you another letter, roughly of the same length, which will follow on the first. I will also send you at the same time a detailed grammar of our natives’ language; it will be accompanied by a little dictionary of that language. All of it is ready – I am only waiting for his Lordship’s arrival to send it to you. I received your worthy letter from the very hands of our dear confrères. I thank you very sincerely for being so good as to still remember the least of your children.
We are both well, Brother Joseph and I: we have got along with our dear natives since our first days here, and nothing really annoying has been done to us by our savages apart from some breakages and thefts done at the beginning. We live with the King, and his savage Majesty likes us, respects us and fears us, whatever be, nonetheless, the hatred he has for our religion. He alone opposes the establishing of Christianity, and as he enjoys an absolute authority, he keeps the whole island in paganism.
All the natives yearn to know the true God, and if it were not for the bad dispositions of the king only, for a long time now we would have had churches built and, perhaps, the whole island baptised, but alas! we have the truly bitter sorrow of seeing the knowledge of our good Master delayed because of our poor hard-hearted King. Nevertheless in spite of his bans and his humiliations, we have about a hundred catechumens who have defied the authority of the King and have rejected their false divinities, but they have been so persecuted and humiliated in every way, and they have been so greatly threatened that we have been forced by prudence and while awaiting the Bishop’s arrival, to stop our public practices [of faith] and I have been forced to separate myself from my dear people: but I do not fail to communicate with them through brief visits or by letters which their young chief, who knows how to read and write, explains to them.[1] They are still very poorly instructed, nevertheless, thanks be to God, they are staunch in their belief. Oh! May the Creator and Saviour of all men convert, at last, my poor savage Majesty. His heart is in God’s hands – pray for him, please.
Apart from studying the language, to which up till now I have earnestly devoted myself, I have been busy in travelling about my island in every direction, so as to get to know all my people, to instruct them particularly, in public, to turn them away from their false divinities, and to bring them to know the one true God of heaven and earth. My journeys especially are aimed at finding the children in danger of death and baptising them. I also baptise adults when I have the time to win them over and instruct them. I have done 50 baptisms. Most of these new Christians have become protectors of their country in heaven.
A very interesting item of news concerns an old and powerful chief of Tongatapu who has been in Wallis for four years with a great number of other natives, and has, by the grace of God, been converted to Christianity, and his conversion has brought about that of those with him. This event took place exactly at the time when the King was doing his utmost to prevent any new developments on his island. This chief is on the point of completing a huge canoe to go back to Tonga. He is waiting for the Bishop, to ask him for a Catholic missionary to go with him in order to bring an end to the spread of heresy in his island group and make known there the true religion of Jesus Christ in which he is beginning to be instructed. A little boy was born to him a few days after his conversion. I called him Gregory because he was the first child of Gregory XVI in the islands of Tonga.
Father Chanel found an opportunity to come and visit us last year at Easter, and we had the consolation of fulfilling together our Easter duty. A year after, the new confrères arrived, with the upshot that this year I again found the means of fulfilling the precept of yearly confession. I went with our dear confrères’ schooner to Horn Island, where Father Chanel is, in order to bring back from there several natives from my island, who had gone there on their canoes. The winds kept me there with that good Father for two months. His island offers a completely ripe harvest and only awaits the time when Father Chanel has enough of the language to be gathered into the Lord’s barns.
The neighbouring islands of Tonga, Fiji and the Navigators (Samoa) are strongholds of heresy. The missionaries are, in all, about thirty in number, counting the women, who have here the same title and powers as the men! When will it be that the true ministers of Jesus Christ have at least as much zeal and courage as a woman? I am totally ashamed at being here alone amongst so many children of heresy. O holy Church of Jesus Christ, is it necessary that your ministers should have less zeal in defending your interests than your enemies have for attacking them?
The whole earth belongs to the Lord, the sun shines here as well as in France, and the lovable providence of the Creator of all things is not less evident in Oceania than in other parts of the world. People get wrong ideas about the missions, they see in them only the extraordinary and miraculous, and, after all, nothing is so simple. As everywhere else, you encounter in them the distinctive cross of all Jesus Christ’s disciples, and the missionary’s lot hardly differs from that of anyone who wants to live according to the spirit of his vocation in any part of the world.
Forgive me, Reverend Superior, for this scrawl, if somehow it gets to you, it is only a few words written in haste and entrusted to a rather uncertain opportunity. You have already received, or will receive later on, all the details you could want. I ask for your blessing and a remembrance at the holy altar, and am, with deep respect and in union with your prayers and holy sacrifices
Your most humble and obedient servant and child,
M(issionary) a(postolic)


  1. Bataillon spoke of the role played by the chief Tu’uagahala in an earlier letter (cf doc 28 [25])

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