8 December 1840 — Father Philippe Viard to Father Benoît-Stanislas Condamin, Tauranga
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, October 2012
The recipient is, no doubt, Father Bênoit-Stanislas Condamin of the diocese of Lyons. He and Viard had been curates at St Louis de la Guillotiêre in Lyons in the time preceding Viard’s entry into the Marist novitiate in 1838; Condamin stayed there until his appointment to the parish of Cours in the canton of Thizy in July 1844 (Cf A A L register of personnel, No 2, Vachet, p 604; Dictionary of NZ Biography, Vol 1, p 560)
- Extract from a letter of Reverend Father Viard, missionary apostolic of the Society of Mary, to Father Condamin.
- New Zealand, Tauranga
- 8th December 1840
- My beloved confrère,
- It is a year ago today that I greeted New Zealand for the first time. After a three month stay at the Bay, I accompanied our holy Bishop on his long and happy journey to the islands of the south. A great number of tribes were visited: everywhere his Lordship was eagerly greeted by the natives. You could not have restrained your tears on beholding those good islanders dashing into the water up to their waists to more quickly reach a canoe and compete with one another to bring it to shore, accompanied by shouts from the crowd, drunk with joy. At the moment when we were stepping ashore, the noise redoubled, muskets were fired to celebrate the arrival of the prelate whose arrival had been awaited so long and with so much impatience. In each island people, with great cries, asked for priests; the demands were so lively and urgent at Tauranga that the Bishop promised to leave me amongst these good people.
- Six months have already gone by since I took up this appointment, still without a confrère and one hundred leagues [c. 500 km] from the Bay of Islands. I have five tribes to serve; here are their names: Matamata, Motuhoa, Matakana, Maungatapu, which means “holy mountain”, and Otumoetai. This last named is the centre of the mission. I usually live there, and it is there as well that my ministry has received its most abundant blessings.
- How often, in the presence of the Lord, do I complain at finding myself alone in breaking the bread of life for so many people so desperate to feed themselves with it! How many souls would be saved, how many children would not die without baptism, if a host of priests flew to New Zealand! The difficulties and sufferings of our apostolate are, indeed, smaller than many imagine. The climate where I live is truly blessed by the heavens, ferocious animals and poisonous insects are quite unknown here, there is no harsh cold here nor excessive heat; if from time to time it rains, serenity quickly returns; the soil is fertile, and although its produce is not really diverse, not only does it provide for the natives’ needs, but it also gives them what they need to trade with the Europeans who frequent these seas. Of course the zeal of the man of God, in order to be encouraged, does not need the gratitude of his neophytes; however that reward which he does not seek is certain to be found in New Zealand. Our Christians easily come to love all those who do them good. When we speak to them about so many people who are concerned for their welfare, they are all dumbfounded and shout in admiration: “Oh, how good they are! Kapai, Kapai!” We often show them on the maps the various countries of Europe from whence come the prayers and the alms that support our missions, and then they unite their prayers to ours, so that God may shower graces and blessings on all their loving benefactors.
- Along with these interior qualities, the New Zealanders have also a happy openness of mind and a great desire for learning. They are, as well, quite industrious and show a lot of interest in carving. The main occupation of the men is cultivating the soil and building Maori canoes, a type of boat which is long and narrow, with which they are not afraid to challenge waves and storms. The women, after taking care of the housework, spend their time in weaving very beautiful cloaks. More commonly, people of high status clothe themselves in a simple woollen blanket. If you see them from a distance hastening in a crowd to prayer, wrapped in that long blanket with which they sometimes swathe their heads, they could be taken for religious of the Grande Chartreus going to matins.
- Since arriving in Tauranga, I have baptised nearly two hundred children, a great proportion of whom have already gone to heaven. I have also conferred the same sacrament on a lot of adults, among them the primeval chief of the island. I like to think he owes his conversion to the prayers of his little daughter. That child was the first whom I regenerated in the waters of baptism. I gave her the sweet name of Marie, two months before she died. The sorrow of her parents was extreme, because they loved her very much. According to the custom of the New Zealanders they withdrew far from their dwelling place, near the place where they had put the body of their beloved child, and there they did not cease to weep tears. Several times I went to bear them words of consolation, but nothing could dry their tears. No doubt, while the father and the mother were grieving the loss of their only daughter, that little angel, that innocent Marie, was praying for them in heaven; her payers were heard. The father, worn down by grief, had become dangerously ill, people despaired his life, when I was called to him to instruct him about the holy laws of the Gospel. By means of an unhoped for grace, his strength came back to him, along with that indescribable calm which comes about in a soul which, at last, is invaded by the sweet certainties of faith. He has completely recovered, and has asked me for baptism, and is completely resolved to serve until he dies the God who already has his little Marie. He is always the first to come to prayers, and for myself he is the most devoted friend. He takes great pleasure in being in my house, and, if I am absent, he becomes its guardian. A fortnight after his baptism, I gave the same sacrament to his wife. Many important people are urging me to grant them this grace as well, but I am delaying so as to get them to better appreciate what it is worth.
- Please commend our mission to the prayers of all those who strive seriously for the glory of God. I have great confidence in particular in the prayers of little children; get them to pray for the little New Zealand children: tell them that the Oceanians of their age are not as fortunate as they are, that most of them do not have priests to teach them to love Jesus and Mary.
- Farewell, dear friend, etc
- P(hilippe) J(oseph) Viard, missionary apostolic
- Written Motuihoa for Motuhoa; Matakama instead of Matakana; Maunga-tapu instead of Maungatapu; Tumeotai instead of Otumoetai. Viard’s “five tribes” were in fact pa, or names of places. The name Otumoetai comes up twice in Pèzant’s history (Cf Doc 865 [8, 34])
- Kapai – two Maori words Ka pai where the particle ka designates a situation up till now unknown to the speakers, and pai means good or excellent.
- Waka-maori: waka – canoe, and maori – usual, normal, native
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