From Marist Studies
1 November 1839 & 12 May 1840 — Father Pierre Bataillon to Father Étienne Séon, Wallis
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2013
- To Father Séon, the mission at Valbenoite
- Wallis Island, 1st November 1839
- Reverend Father Séon
- Your kind letter got to me nine months after the date. It was sent me along with several others from the good faithful of St Etienne, through the very hands of the new confrères coming from France. It gave me all the more pleasure because it contained the first news coming to me from France since my arrival at Uvea or Wallis. It was 18 months previously that the Bishop had left me on this island alone with dear Brother Joseph. He was to visit us after six months, and we had not even received any news of him when the reinforcements of new confrères arrived: they should have gone directly to New Zealand, to where his Lordship was, but they had diverted from their route a little to make certain, while passing, of the situation we were in. Without that happening we would still be without news, because it is while still waiting for the Bishop that I am writing you this letter. It is, however, two years exactly – today, All Saints’ Day, since we arrived in Wallis.
- How much joy and consolation we experienced in learning of the so edifying things you tell us in your precious letter! How many times in reading it, and re-reading it, I have had to bless the Lord for the fact that while making His name known to the ends of the earth, more and more the flame of faith seems to be reviving in our beloved homeland, which from time immemorial has distinguished itself by its zeal in bringing this inestimable treasure to our unfortunate brethren who were deprived of it. The Propagation of the Faith, that work of works, that truly divine work, is everywhere in France and in the diocese of Lyons. The children of St Irenaeus who have possessed the faith for more than 16 centuries, are more and more coming to appreciate the special concern with which God has honoured them in preference to so many thousands of peoples who are our brethren and created in the image of God as much as us, and who, however, are still sitting in the darkness of paganism, and are daily falling into eternal reprobation. Oh! May the Lord be a thousand times blessed for so much disposing the hearts of our fellow-countrymen in favour of their unfortunate brethren! Oh! What can I say specially about the good faithful of St Étienne, Valbenoîte and the surrounding areas? Oh, I am truly lost for words to tell you of all the joy I experienced in thinking about them. I knew from your letter and the detailed information that Fathers Baty and Epalle gave me, all that these good people have done for the Oceania missions which so justly they call their own. What am I saying? I have seen it myself with my own eyes – because I have just recently opened a huge parcel which was judged to be mine, and came precisely from St Étienne. It was full of dresses, shirts, smocks, handkerchiefs etc – everything very clean and in good condition. A medal of the Blessed Virgin was attached on one side and on the other was glued a prayer to that good Mother. It’s true that when we left, we had a great amount of various things, some of which were already distributed, and which significantly contributed to gaining the affection of our savages, but our confrères were nicely better set up than we were: charity has grown in St Étienne, and I am convinced that the people are not poorer for it. I wanted to check over myself, in detail, all the charitable gifts of the good people of St Étienne, and I wasn’t able to hold back my tears of joy and gratitude. I came across the alms of the poor person next to that of the rich; perhaps, I said to myself on seeing them, is that, there, the dress, the neckerchief of some poor working woman, whose entire wealth was in it, yet was really willing to deprive herself of it to cover the members of Jesus with it in the persons of his brethren, and that medallion and that cross which are attached to them, perhaps cost the few centimes she had left… perhaps that child’s dress, that big smock, are the work of some poor domestic servants who, not being able to do this in daytime, devoted whole nights to making them. I could not restrain my tears on thinking of these wonders of charity. Oh! How many good people there are in St Étienne and in the diocese of Lyons, and in the whole of France! Such faith! Such charity! How well aware they are of the wretched situation of our poor savages and what they need! They seem to dispute with one another for the delight of supplying their needs. I shared these thoughts with all my dear Uveans and particularly with a few catechumens whom the good God had given me. I told them, while dressing them, that their clothes came from their relatives in France who loved them very much and who were concerned about them as if they were their brothers and sisters; and these poor people wept with emotion and gratitude because someone so far away was willing to think of them: they do not know us, they said, and they love us like this, and are so concerned about us! Oh! How good they are, our relatives in France, and how well they realise that we are poor! How good the great God of the Christians makes people! Then they put various questions to me: the King of the land, some asked me, did he have anything to do with what was sent to us: and I was able to tell them truly that he had contributed a lot, and they felt they could not have been more honoured. So they are very rich, some others said to me, these people who have sent us such fine clothes? And I told them that both rich and poor people had contributed towards clothing them, that some perhaps out of kindness had deprived themselves for them, and that where they lived it wasn’t wealth that was great, but rather charity, and their astonishment was at its peak. I then pointed out the names that were written on their clothes and I told them that these were the names of their godfathers and godmothers, and that these names would be given them on the day of their baptism: they immediately began to repeat their new names, and their joy, their wonder and gratitude grew and grew. And indeed what is more moving and more edifying than all those pious creations which faith and charity have inspired on the good faithful people of our diocese! In our admiration, we could not bless the Lord enough, nor adequately express our gratitude to all those good people who were so concerned for their brethren in the Antipodes. But we commend them often in our holy sacrifices and rejoice in the thought that God himself will be, throughout eternity, the reward for their generous sacrifices. We will pray at the same time that their charity and zeal will go on growing. This will be a source of blessing for them, a reason for rejoicing in heaven, for triumph for the Church, and of edification and consolation for us. Oh! Yes, may zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls go on growing among the children of the Church of Rome. May the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, that work of works, make new progress in all parts of the Christian world! Eh! Would the children of the Church of Rome show less ardour for spreading the orthodox faith than heretics show for spreading their errors? What do their many Bible societies not do to multiply their proselytes? Everyone is aware of the huge sums of money they gather every year to distribute everywhere their Bibles and to send and support, at great cost, to the most remote parts of the world, their so-called apostles with their children, their wives and all their followers; and wouldn’t it grieve the heart of the Church our mother and cover her in some sort of confusion if her children allowed themselves to be beaten in zeal by her own enemies, and showed less zeal for saving their brethren that Hell has tor condemning them? But it will not be like this: we, vessels of the true faith, we, true inheritors of the promises of Jesus Christ, we will always distinguish ourselves in the sight of the whole universe by our love for our brethren, by our zeal for extending the rule of our Divine Master, and in supporting in everything and everywhere the glory of his spouse, the holy Church of Rome. We will always make all the more efforts to defend her interests than her enemies have means of attacking her. Their support is material, ours is the very arm of the Almighty! Hi in curribus et hi in equis, nos autem in nomine Domini.
- You will see in Father Superior’s letters all the details about our little mission that could interest you. The mission there is ripe, the whole island is ready to embrace the Christian religion, but the King alone opposes it. At this point I am commending him to your prayers and to those of all the good faithful people of St Etienne. He has so harassed our small number of catechumens up till now that we have been forced to end the mission’s public worship ceremonies that we had begun in a small island; he has forced me more and more to separate myself from my beloved people, but in spite of all his threats and stern demands, the faith is taking root, and the number of believers is growing, but everything is still happening in secret. Divine justice must certainly be bent towards this savage Majesty, and I am waiting until it will be, through the prayers and good works of our fellow-countrymen. In spite of his affection for us, his hate of true religion has for a long time led him to looking for a way to get rid of us, and not being able, for many reasons, to resolve to have us killed, he once had been bold enough to order that we be driven far from his island, on board of just a canoe, but having boldly taken him at his word, I frightened him more than he had frightened me. Since the arrival of our dear confrères, he has heard so much talk about the charity of the Christians of France, and he himself has so clearly seen its results, that he has secretly been moved by them, and if we finally hold on to this mission, we will owe it, certainly, to the prayers and good works and the fine examples of charity of the good faithful of our diocese, and that it must be consoling to carry out a missionary role in this way, while remaining in the bosom of their families!
- I was really interested to read the edifying details you gave me about the many missions you are preaching in France. May God be blessed a thousand times for it. May the faith be re-lit more and more in our country! In your various missions may you convert so many Christians who, although born and brought up in the bosom of religion only end up giving themselves over to really harmful disorders. Those poor brethren! How God has honoured them in having them born in the bosom of Christianity in preference to so many peoples who have not yet heard of Him who created them! Oh! If only a hundredth part of the care which has been lavished on them had been given to the thousands of pagans who live in Oceania, those unfortunate people would have profited with eagerness and gratitude, and the faith would flourish throughout this ocean. These poor peoples, as soon as they have known their creator, have hastened to serve Him: they weep over the fate of the ancestors who died without coming to know Him; they regret that they themselves came to know Him so late, and try by every means to show him their faithfulness and love. And indeed, it seems so reasonable and so much in conformity with all the laws of nature that creatures love and serve their Creator, that he who reflects about it cannot really understand the blindness of those who, knowing their creator and their God, far from loving Him, scorn and offend Him throughout their lives.
- From the 12th May 1840
- The new confrères who arrived in December of last year have all stayed in New Zealand, except Father Chevron, who has just arrived here in Wallis after an almost five month journey from New Zealand. He has passed on to me your other letter, and I thank you for that. Having come only to see if I was still alive, and being here only two or three days, I cannot tell you everything of interest that has happened since the first date of this letter. I will just say that, thanks be to God, trials have not been lacking for us, but Heaven has triumphed. Mary has shown her omnipotence, and the island will soon be entirely a catechumen. I have a church, and the worship of the mission is carried out there on a regular basis. I distributed 100 shirts and dresses last Easter, but I really need a lot more. I hope that the Bishop will send me some from the store in New Zealand. A thousand thanks to the fine faithful of St Étienne and Valbenoîte for the charity they have shown us, and for all the prayers they are directing to Heaven on our behalf. We are urging Our Lord to reward them and to go on strengthening in them that so edifying love they have for their Oceanian brothers and sisters.
- My respectful remembrances to Father Rouden and to all the Marist confrères, and others, and to all those you mention in your letters: to the Vocanson, Dutel, Jour, Paradis, Fontvielle, Maire families etc. I hope I can answer their kind letters later on.
- United with you in prayers and holy sacrifices, I am your most humble and obedient servant,
- M(issionary) a(postolic)
- Cf Doc 38  f/n 16
- Ps 19(20):8 – Some rely on chariots, others on horse, but we on the name of the Lord our God.
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