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Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean to Auguste Paillasson 7 March 1841

Translated by Ronja Skandera, University of Waikato. 2008


New Zealand, Wangaroa, 7 March 1841


J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
My dear brother,
[1]
I have received your letters, the first addressed to me in New Zealand; the two from you, my dear brother, one dated 21st September 1839, and the other 10th December in the same year. Father Pezan and Father Tripe were the bearers. I received one from my sister Antoinette dated 5th January 1840 and one from our Carmelite dated 6th January. These letters reawakened all the emotions I suffered when I left France. It was as if I left my family for a second time. When these letters were delivered to me, I did not open them at once, but refrained from reading them in order to do so in a deserted chapel, at the feet of a modest altar dedicated to Saint François Xavier. I wanted to be alone with God to bare my heart to the impressions of His soul, I wanted to be like Joseph withdrawing to his house to mourn for his brethren. I will confess to you, I have often wiped away tears, tears of sincere compassion, whenever I think of little Angèle praying for her ill mother. Angèle, drawing upon her mother the eyes of Mary who answers the prayers from her poor heart and lips, my poor child, believe in your devotion to Mary, every day of your life, and do not stop praying for your uncle in New Zealand.


When I read the news of the death and funeral of your father and my dearly beloved relative, I felt my heart beating violently. I could not recite enough the words that are like a chorus honoring the death of the righteous: Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorem ejus; precious to the Lord be the deaths of his saints. My friend, what an example your father leaves us and all those that knew him; he, my brother, is one more witness added to this immense flock of the Lord’s Children that St Paul presents us, crying out from above, telling us to walk in their footsteps towards the Holy Land.
[2]
I have addressed only two letters to France, one to you, and the other to Monsieur Page, one of your friends, both dated 11th March 1840. Forgive me, brother, with your usual kindness, forgive what you might first consider forgetfulness and then delay. We are overwhelmed here with work and continuous distractions. How quickly this year has escaped me! If only it had passed as fruitfully as it had quickly, and if only it could be the seed sown to bless the years and the moments that still remain for me here in New Zealand.


I have addressed you this letter in preference even to my dear and venerable superior to console you, or rather to console us together amidst the sorrow and the crosses Heaven has sent you to bear. My dear brother, among all this pain, I too have been surrounded by afflictions and trials, but what instruction can we draw from these to lead us toward salvation? This: we must prevail over thousands of tribulations so we may reach the kingdom of Heaven.


Here, it is true, we have not had the death of any of our colleagues to mourn; the Lord preserves our lives and our health in a most admirable way. Our pain is of a different sort. We are constantly exposed to slander; things quite devoid of truth have been published against our Bishop and his missionaries, yet which are believed by a people that are as uneducated in their understanding as children and give a certain degree of trust in their teachers. It has been said that we have come to take the land of the natives; that they receive their payments in advance by means of the distribution of clothes and other objects; that our religion or our nation (our enemies confuse the two) is quarrelsome, turbulent, quick to spill blood; that we are idol worshipers, worshiping man-made icons; that in the past we had three young men thrown in the fire for refusing to pay homage to a statue (this refers to the story in the Old Testament of three children thrown into the blaze by Nebuchadnezzar). In one tribe the Bishop was requested to append his signature to a document passed around the natives. They asked him to sign himself as the Antichrist, because this tribe still only knew him under this name. Here, my brother, the angelic purity of the clergy is dragged through the mud. With my own ears I heard a New Zealander say coldly to me You have no wives, do you, you are a eunuch, and as he did not know the meaning of the word, he used the comparison that had been used to persuade him of what we are. You are, he said to me, like our castrated pigs. When I said that the virtue of chastity is dragged through the mud, did I exaggerate? Let us not even mention the thousands of other cruel remarks, such as that we absolve the sins of the natives in exchange for money, alluding to alms that the priests in the exercise of the most sublime act of their mission, sometimes ask from penitents to compensate their sins. Indeed to demand the poor New Zealanders, who are a perfect example of a pitiful nation, even the smallest alms is the most ridiculing and offensive thing in the world to them. While our conscience and our work gives our slanderers the clearest possible proof they are wrong, the slander still goes on and has the uncanny ability of finding something new. I wanted to silence one of these protestant ministers. I asked him to explain some bad things he had said against my nation and the Holy Church; my mother. I wrote to him, but for fear he would compromise his reputation he let the bearers of my letters go without a response. He came to see me while there was nobody at home. Approached by natives of both Protestant and Catholic sides, I went to the minister accompanied by the most illustrious chiefs. At first he refused to speak to the assembly that awaited him, sitting on the shore. Forced to defend himself and talk, although he apologized from doing because of his ill wife, he altered and even denied absolutely everything that the assembled tribe heard from his own mouth and this in such a way that I resolved to write to this gentleman, believing that it was necessary to remedy such a great scandal. This meeting became a great conference whose success, I hope, will have beneficial consequences.
[3]
The district in which I direct the holy ministry is situated to the north east of the Bay of Islands and stretches all the way to the river called Orourou that you will see on the maps as Odoudou. This is a mistake; New Zealanders do not have a sound that corresponds to our D. In marking the distance between the Bay of Islands and Wangaroa, my main residency, I made a mistake, exaggerating by more than half. You can see on the map the area that I travel to teach the tribes. It is true the tribes are few in number, but they are well dispersed and they frequently move around. As far as the terrain is concerned we generally have only damp tracks which are steep and very narrow and often buried under ferns. In the evening after quite a long walk it sometimes happened that I reached huts that were uninhabited. In such cases a bed is not difficult to find but it is hunger one must bear. Sometimes there are mountain streams paved with slippery rocks; I have seen tribes, evangelized by our heretic brothers, who obstinately refused to take me across a very narrow river in their canoe; is this the charity they are taught by their masters? On St Scholastic Day 1841, at around 10 o’clock at night, I was climbing steep rocks in search of a track. Below me was a raging sea and with a single false step I would have fallen. I climbed with courage; I fought against the ferns and the scrub, I continued against all hope, I was consumed with thirst. In my anguish I started to sing the hymn: I trust in thy help, O Mary. Hardly had I finished these words when I saw the track open beneath my feet. These are certainly not miracles noteworthy of spreading, but I can testify that in this case and others where I have found myself in great worry and difficulty, I was delivered from my troubles after praying to Mary and I felt in the depth of my heart an intense sense of joy and gratitude towards the august protectress of our mission.
[4]
Travel at sea, I say, is not without danger. It is done in small boats or in the natives’ canoes. When the wind strengthens, there is a risk of sinking. One day, I crossed a large river about half a league wide in an unseaworthy canoe. While the others rowed, my task was to bail out water with a shoe so that we would not capsize with the weight of the water that the wind continuously pushed against us. Here I could tell a moving story about one of our Fathers, Reverend Father Servant, who was saved from death by a very special protection from the Virgin Mary. I know that he spent more than a day in a small boat without food, and was carried out almost to the open sea through the rocks with two men who were exhausted from rowing and losing heart and hope. The ship that carried one of our Fathers, Reverend Chevron, to the tropics, was so at risk of smashing into the rocks of one island that the natives of this island were waiting for it to run aground any minute, impatient to seize their prey. This ship was caught so long between salvation and shipwreck, the crisis was so drawn out, that the people on board prepared for death. The priest administered the sacrament of penitence, and nevertheless this same priest peacefully preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ on the islands today. O paternal providence for those sent by Jesus Christ. In the same way that our ministry is part of the apostolic ministry, the sign of protection Heaven grants us is an extension of the remarkable privileges of power which Jesus assigned his apostles telling them of the signs that must accompany their steps, Signa autem eos qui crediderint haec sequentur. One comment made by the natives themselves was that the catholic tribes are protected even in the life of their own bodies in a most special manner. Deaths are very rare among them in comparison with heretic tribes. This is therefore the same providence that extends over the shepherd and his flock. It is not for me to talk of suffering, I who have only just entered the apostolic career. Oh! my brother, let us turn our weeping eyes to Tongking, to Cochinchine so horribly persecuted. Here are these champions to whom we can apply all that St Paul said concerning those that proved great from the work of faith. My dear brother, read chapter XI of the Epistle to the Hebrews. And Monsignor Dupucch, this untiring Bishop from Africa, in whom Augustin and his most courageous colleagues seem to live again. His letters truly breathe life into me; they resemble reports made by the general of an army after an expedition. I have nothing to reproach in my colleagues or in our venerable Bishop in whom shines the purest devotion.
[5]
My sister has asked me a lot of questions regarding what kind of bed and food I have etc. I will try to answer some of these.
[6]
To sleep on I have a camp bed with the same mattress that I used during the voyage. That is for use at home. When I am on a mission I use the bed of the soldier who serves Jesus Christ; the bare earth softened by a few ferns or some swamp plant. On this I lay peacefully in my clothes, covered by my blanket or my coat. Rather than sleeping in huts where there are women, I go outside and sleep in the open. Sometimes I have slept very comfortably on the beach. One suffers much from the insects; apart from that species that smells so bad, all others are found here. My staple meals consist of pork and potatoes: one day pork and potatoes, and the next day potatoes and pork. Since Quinquagesima Sunday my provisions of salted pork have finished. I have been living mostly on potatoes. I almost feared that nobody would come to sell me any like in other years as they are rare in my area. Pigs are very expensive; a 200 pound pig will easily cost 2 pounds, or 50 francs. For dessert I happily pick away with my fork at a few grains of corn boiled in water. One day, finding myself in the house of an honest Protestant and speaking familiarly with him, he gave me details of his provisions: and you, do you have an abundance of rice and flour? Well no, I told him, my provisions are light, I have very little rice and I do not eat bread. I added: You see, I am poor but poverty is honorable to us. Our poverty is like the poverty of the apostles. The majority of the alms that come to us from France are used for good purposes, for advancing the work of God. Protestant missionaries act differently; they think first of themselves, they lack nothing, and only the surplus is used for their mission. Moreover they have a thriving trade in their books, bibles and the rest.
[7]
I have some rather rancid fat left over at the bottom of a jar that I carefully save in case I must welcome a stranger or an important chief. In this case our dear brother will quickly improvise some fritters. Wine is not a necessity. I have just enough for the Holy Mass. I am quite happy to go without tea, which is the usual beverage for the white people, finding more pleasure drinking water. Later, things will be much better for us; as our dear brother, called Brother Elie, manages to farm a small piece of land with the poor means at his disposal. He is quite happy with the good results from the first year and he now has melons and some vegetable plants. In his garden he is beginning to have quite a good number of poultry. Out in the tribes my meals consist of ordinary potatoes or sweet potatoes, called koumara, and sometimes fish. Yet our natives do not have much of this food in abundance; they sell a large portion of their harvest to buy clothes. They have never served me pork. With these people the ground acts as chair and table. We very rarely eat inside the house. One must fend off dogs and pigs. Sometimes the natives have given me a little stick to hold; so in one hand I would take pieces of food, the other would be continually armed to push away the troublesome pests. Dishes or plates are little baskets or simply leaves. The house in Wangaroa where I live is made of wood. The walls are a few pieces of coarse wood (which we call trimmed logs), joined and erected together. I myself cut down some of the trees that would serve as beams. I even carried them on my own shoulders. Half of this house, that must measure about 30 feet by 15, is clad inside with planks. This is the half I destine as a provisional chapel. For the moment this job has been put aside as we are in great need; the planks are sold for up to 25 shellings per 100 feet. Even though my living quarters are humble, I like them, and I think I will be making a great sacrifice when my superiors call me to other areas. At least this will be of benefit for eternity to come. Therefore, my dear brother, the apostolic and the religious life united together strip a man in an instant and teach him to die well when his last hour tolls, when our eternal father calls us for judgment. My kitchen is a roof of thatch or marsh plant on four posts. My poor chapel has been until now nothing more than a humble thatched cottage, however Jesus often descends on hearing the voices of his priests as this image reminds him of his dear Bethlehem. After my meals my free time is spent in a school that I started for the people of the tribe in which I live. Here there are many tasks for the priest; household chores, attending to the laundry, the sacristy and above all the spiritual care of the souls. There is little to expect from the New Zealanders, as interesting as they are. Oh, when will our dear brothers come to us in a greater number from France! What a powerful help for the mission dear brothers would be, and what a relief for the priest. A continuous torment for my heart is having to constantly hear the New Zealanders’ requests without being able to satisfy them. However, it seems to me that after all the sacrifices we have made, I would still tear my two eyes out for the salvation of these poor people. If I were able to accompany my spiritual visits with some material goods, such as bringing a little sugar or flour to their sick people, I would have the key to their hearts much more easily. Still, let us console ourselves, let us throw ourselves into God's hands; the mission finds itself in such strife only so that it might appear to be the hand of God Himself that maintains it. About three months ago, an English warship resolved to help its country's missionaries who were not being sufficiently heard or perhaps whose rights were being infringed at Tongatabou. The fact that this ship, called the Favorite, had suffered defeat, caused the captain to be hanged. The newspapers called the rebels the devil's party.
[8]
The place I go the most often aside from Wangaroa is Mongonui and our religious causes are much more advanced there than in Wangaroa, among the Europeans at least. Full of confidence in God who reigns over hearts, and with conviction of the authority that the legitimacy of our ministry gives us, I presented a subscription list to the inhabitants of this bay, of which the greatest part are protestant, for a catholic church to be built in the bay. I visited the houses and until now, and mostly in a single day, I collected 53 pounds sterling and there are between 15 and 20 subscriptions on my list. Here are a people whose generosity I exalt. It must be admitted, my dear brother, that the English in such enterprises are very honorable. One must add for the glory of God, that the protestant ministers attempted the same visit, but completely unsuccessfully. To execute the pious plan of a church at Mongonui, it would be proper and even necessary that the Bishop could contribute and at this moment I know that we are in extreme difficulty. Now, my dear brother, to give you an idea of my apostolic excursions, here are a few fragments of a travel journal I wrote at length and that is already rather old.
[9]
On Thursday 26th November I went down the Wangaroa river to visit a poor sick woman. I took some provisions: some salted pork, a few ears of corn, but no potatoes, as they were too rare then. In my boat, as well as my two young men, I took three natives with whom I had to share my provisions that were indeed so precious to me that I could later be left wanting. There is no need to be surprised about this. Another time, as I was having a modest meal just before leaving, a chief asked for his share, without thinking that during our journey my two young men and I might suffer great hunger. As interesting as these people otherwise are, one must treat them in the same way as one does children. The people of this invalid woman that I was to visit were so impoverished or so lazy that they did not have the smallest shelter to offer me for the night. I spent the first night in the rain, and on the second I built myself a little tent with the sail of my boat. A similar such structure seen in France would have been considered a coffin covered by a sheet. I prepared this woman for death as best I could. I also had the consolation of baptizing a child I called Marc. It is a true comfort giving my newborns some family name and therefore producing all around me the dear images of my relatives and my friends. The name Auguste has not yet been given. These people are extremely difficult to choose names for, and it often occurs that a name transformed into their language loses its harmony as the Maori language never has two consonants in a row within the same word.
[10]
On the morning of Saturday 28th, the skies promised a good day. Following my plan I resolved to set sail to return to Mongonui. The wind was in our favor until the evening, when we had to row against it, and the tide was also against us. I myself tackled the rowing with vigor, and with my example and my words I encouraged my men. Finally with our determination we rounded a rocky point and behind it we were sheltered until the complete calm of night. It was dark when we arrived close to the small tribe called Wai Awa of Mongonui, which I had intended to use as a base from which to travel to a number of other tribes spread around the large Mongonui Bay. The natives' fire was my compass. I called out, and they recognized my voice. Epikopo, they called, it's the epikopo (the Latin word for Bishop is episcopo, and by extension they have given this name to the priests, though their real name is ariki. For a long time our loyal followers have been known under this denomination, but now the name of the Catholic apostolic roman church is beginning to be used more). I settled into my small residence and held a prayer for the natives. I prepared something to eat. My young men were overwhelmingly tired. They reminded me of the master I belonged to, the one who came to serve, so I called my children, and I served them. When I was alone I meditated for a moment to thank the Lord for the hospitable roof that His providence had prepared with the hands of a pious catholic. I offered God my labor in this part of the mission. During the hot and tiresome day, we had been out at sea with no fresh water. After eating only salted food, fresh water was a great relief for my aching limbs. A gentle sleep restored my energy. On the 29th I went to see a catholic European to celebrate the Holy Mysteries and to give the Catholics there the benefit of taking part in the Holy Mass and, towards evening, despite the insistence of the European, I returned to my humble hut. Freedom, the desire to be among my natives, and the fear of burdening this excellent European all encouraged me to leave. Then I had a new concern. Several weeks before I had spent the night at the house of a white person whose drunkenness had caused me to flee at 11 o'clock at night. I was left in the forest searching for a shelter. It is horrible to see excess drinking; these drunken orgies, this low state, sometimes lasting a week, even two or three in succession when one wonders now and then if a particular person is really sober. On Monday I went again to the European’s house to ask him for an old chest that I had my eye on with the intention of making a throne with it for the king of kings, and on Tuesday 30th I started my rounds among the tribes who are mostly Protestant in this area. The first one I visited was Koou Marou to the east of Mangonui and having met three catholic natives I was deeply delighted that even in our small district the great Roman church has its catholic character. As with the others, I wanted to show this tribe the priest at the altar; they are generally amazed and keep a respectful silence. After I had finished the noble sacrifice the people asked me to show them again my sacred robes. I admired their simplicity at seeing an old ornament decorated with white braids on one side and gold on the other, quite common and dull. They said that on one side it was silver and the other gold, and that because the only silver and gold colours they know of are those of coins, they said that the robe is covered in schellings and pounds, covered in money. I am often upset that I am never with anyone who could admire the simplicity and the ingenuity of these poor people with me. In this tribe I had the opportunity to see two natives harangue each other in the custom of the country; the two adversaries were each in front of their houses displaying terrible movements to one another, moving from side to side and occasionally slapping their thighs. They were separated by a river. The chief was the peacemaker and I heard him saying to the youngest, E koro kia iti to ou karero. Young man, may your speech quieten, quiet. I would need many pages to describe the truly interesting scenes that people in Europe would pay dearly to see. On Thursday 3rd I went up the Orourou. I did not stay long there, as the natives were away working the land somewhere else. On the way back down the same river I went to Tahipa where I found a large part of the missing tribe from Orourou. I baptized a white child there whose parents gave their consent for him to be raised in the catholic religion. I saw the chief I had looked for in Oruru. His wife and some other people consider themselves Catholics, but he himself seemed to me indifferent. His people are protestants. This was something worthy of seeing, particularly these poor young people speaking much about the bible (they had the new testament translated by Anglican, Methodist or some other missionaries). They believed everything could be found in the bible, even the invention of firearms, which they attributed to Jesus Christ. They are even poorer because they are ignorant of the principal truths of Christianity. Even the wisest were strangers to the basic proposition of one God alone, three people in God and that Jesus Christ is the son of God who died for mankind, and yet their masters have now been in New Zealand for more than twenty years. I would have left quite hurriedly, if not for a poor sick woman whose salvation was important to me. But what more could I do to save this soul? I could not approach the invalid. If I went in her direction the people shouted at me. How I suffered. In the end after seeing her secretly two or three times and trying to gain her trust by helping her in small ways, I repeated unto her the truths alone, without a witness. I poured a few drops of holy water on her forehead and I baptized her without her even realizing and then I left, laying this soul before God. These people have the habit of abandoning, as it were, the ill. Sometimes they refuse to give them food under the pretext that they are lost without provisions. All they do is give them a reasonably good bed to lie in, no more. They believe that their god eats the sick. This way of speaking is so common to them that they use it to distinguish different types of deaths. This one, they say, died in battle from a gunshot, that one was eaten by God. That is to say he died a natural death.
[11]
On Saturday morning I hastened on foot to a place called Parapara. I returned straightaway to my boat and prepared to cross the large bay of Mangonui towards a tribe called Wai hari in the west. It was a journey of about three leagues. As the wind was very strong and the waves very high for our small boat that is easily pulled up the shore by three people, and as we could not clearly see the landing place between two rocks, we let ourselves be carried to a shore where we caught sight of some natives. I was relieved to see them. The land of a priest is anywhere where there are people to evangelize, provided that he has been legitimately sent. I have noticed that my journeys never go as planned, and that the wind or other circumstances always disturb all my intentions, even when I am on board a small boat where I am received by people. It is therefore true that God directs everything and uses all to execute His divine wish of accomplishing His Great designs for the consummation of His chosen ones. Back to the subject: our boat had just reached the sand of the shore. I jumped into the water without hesitating to help my men haul the boat out of the water. We were busy with this difficult task when I saw coming towards us a swarm of shouting natives. They started helping us. Our boat was not yet on dry land and the waves were still breaking against my legs when these people demanded payment. I begged them to wait; my tobacco was at the bottom of my chest, I was still standing in the water. Right now, they told me; they pressured me; they almost threatened me. With no fear of their threats, knowing well that outward calmness would not do, and listening only to the blood boiling in my veins, I told one of them: You want to slit my throat? Here is my head. Go ahead if you want, I am ready. Nothing more was needed to calm them. They tried in turns to appease me. Leave me, I told them, leave me alone on this shore. Then I went to the edge of the forest. They said; Do not go near there. This place is tapu; here rest the bones of our fathers. At the same time they showed me another place and they felt more and more of an inclination towards me. They showed themselves ready to oblige me. I gave them some tobacco. However I asked them again to leave, promising to go and see them. No, they told me, we want to listen to you, we want to stay with you. In similar circumstances my travel companions do not do anything to help me, they do not dare, they hide beneath their blankets. I drew a spark from my lighter and as the fire grew, I distanced myself a little to pray on the shore, which had been battered by waves for such a long time before the priests arrived. After reciting some prayers of my breviary I returned to my people. The chief of the area came and asked to shake my hand. His face showed much candor. He was frail. We spoke about the church. I showed them the true vine where Jesus Christ was depicted as the trunk and still lives on this earth in the person of His august vicars, the pontiffs of Rome. My speech impressed the chief, and when later I left him he said: Listen, I would gladly join you if I had not turned myself to the other missionaries you know. He had someone bring me potatoes. I accepted them with gratitude toward him and especially toward God, our heavenly Father, who provides so well for the needs of His people. After this first meeting I was escorted to a small shelter to spend the night. In this same place I met a poor woman who told me: my son and I have embraced your beliefs, and I hope that the God of the Bishop will protect me better than all the others, because so far I have had much unhappiness. There was a sort of goodness, naivety and simplicity in her face. This is the same look of our Catholics, in contrast to the bitter and hard look that betrays those of the new teaching. This is the remark made by strangers who generally much prefer to deal with catholic tribes than with others. The following day I put up a rustic altar to sanctify this ground in the presence of Jesus Christ, and straight after a lunch of potatoes, I left for Wai hari with a chief from this tribe who had come to collect me. His face was sad, as his searching eyes had not found any clothes in my trunk. No doubt he hoped to receive many gifts, and he was even further than the Samaritan in the gospel from knowing and desiring faith in Jesus Christ and His holy love.
[12]
Here, as everywhere else, I had to deal with many requests. One showed me his tattered clothes, the other his empty pipe. All these requests did was sadden me, because alas my resources do not match the voice of my heart. Some of them went as far as threatening to change to the protestant church. So I tried to seem independent from them; I told them I did not need them, and it was they who needed me to know and follow the truth which is the way to happiness. And nevertheless it was important not to let the candle of hope completely burn out. I stayed with these people for only four days while I gathered the children and taught them some truths of the catechism. I promised to return as soon as I could. They also promised me to follow my teachings. As I left I noticed my hatchet was missing, a tool that is necessary to cut firewood. You should have seen all these poor alarmed faces hastily searching for my hatchet, as if they feared they would be suspected of stealing it. They are extremely sensitive about this. On the return from Mongonui to Wai Awa I resolved several business matters and strengthened my people in the doctrine. The chief of this interesting tribe is very attached to us. They live on the property of a catholic European. Sooner or later, with the arrival of whites in great numbers, the chief and his tribe will be forced to withdraw inland, like many others. But finally I will reach my point: a long time before the Bishop arrived in New Zealand, noticing the large number of tribes turning toward the missionaries, the chief came to find the owner of the property that I just mentioned. He was a man very attached to the catholic faith and referring to him by his catholic name the chief said: Thomas, you see everyone turning toward the missionaries, but you do not do so. It is not my mission, said the European. Then where is your mission, asked the chief. In Europe, responded the Irish European. Later, when the Bishop came to New Zealand, he even appeared in Mangonui: There, the Irishman said to the chief, there is my mission. It is true, said the chief, and he immediately presented his children to the Bishop to be baptized. After leaving this tribe, I went directly to my post at Wangaroa where I luckily arrived in the evening of Sunday 20th December.
[13]
Without much order to my writing and so as not to leave empty pages, I will finish with a few characteristics that will perhaps amuse you and enlighten you. Our natives have the habit of attributing everything that seems evil to them to Satan, even things that seem to happen by chance. One day a New Zealander rowing my boat fell backwards by accident while pulling on the oars. What he regretted the most was not hurting himself, but involuntarily being indecent, since he wore only a blouse and no trousers. Everyone started laughing and he told them in all seriousness: That is the work of Satan. No hatana tenei of Satan. One day I wanted to prepare a lesson on the virtue of humility. I saw a chief and his children who were almost naked. He told me he wanted to earn money to buy a horse and a boat, for tribes who did not own these two things deserved to be called slaves. Not knowing how to express the value of humility that is also necessary for salvation, I told him that to be a perfect disciple of Jesus Christ, we must not aim so much for glory or vain distinctions, we must want little, little. Straight away he cried: It is God who walks small, who crawls. I was touched by this, and I thought of Jesus Christ, the most humble of children, of men, of everything... and who because of his passion was regarded as an earth worm by the prophet. New Zealanders describe the little lizards that are the only reptiles to be seen in New Zealand as God, and it is this God that the chief meant. One day I erred in my travels and, wishing to correct me, they called out to me but did not know my name. There were cries of: E mea! Epikopo! E Hehu Kerito! ma konei. O thing! Bishop! Jesus Christ, over that way. One day a group of natives were entertaining themselves by speaking of a bald Englishman; this strangely displeased them. This bald spot, one said to another, is like a plate on his head or a clean place to put a plate; Kote takotoranga pereti tenei. But here, my brother, is a touching story: these people were in the habit, and many still are, of cutting themselves with shells to make their blood run, and then mixing the blood with their tears when their people die. I told a woman: you do not have to maim yourself like that, you are covered in blood. What should I do instead? Cry, I told her, cry like the foreigners do. Ah, the woman told me, tears are not enough for love. Aoue! te tangi te eroimata kahore heoiano mo te aroha e ngari te toto. Alas, crying and tears are not enough for love but blood is. Ah, it is not enough to cry and to weep, we must spill our blood to witness true love. These words became imprinted in the bottom of my heart. It is there that I wrote them, not on paper.
[14]
The newspapers will tell you enough about the arrival of the French in the South Island. Rumors of the war between France and England reached our ears all the way over here in the Antipodes. May God have mercy, may His will come true not ours. I hope you will see the venerable Bishop of Sidney, Bishop Polding, he should be coming to Lyon. I was unluckily absent from the Bay of Islands when he came there. I do not know who will deliver this letter. Perhaps one of our priests traveling to Europe in the interest of our mission. I was more than faithful to the request you made to celebrate the resting of your father's soul at my first mass after receiving your letter. Comfort your sister Jenny on my behalf. Say kind words to your brothers for me. Give your sister a kiss from me, and embrace little Angèle, Adelaide and Caroline. All of them live, I believe. Go to see Eléonore. And that poor cousin Noyé, whom we like so much. Open your heart and mine to him, and also to cousin Besson and Mr and Mrs Court. How could we forget them? All my relatives and the parish priest of Mornant. If you get the chance, those gentlemen from Perreux. So that this letter may surely reach you, I place it under the protection of Mary who conceived without sin. I ask for all the prayers of my friends, relatives and good souls, as I find myself in extreme need of help from above and I do not pray enough myself. May I not be forgotten, above all not by our good lady of Fourvières.
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My dear brother, I embrace you with all my heart.
Your loving brother Jean Baptiste Petit-Jean,
Marist Priest, Missionary Apostolic
I think of all my relatives and friends before God.