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10 October 1841 — Father Louis Rozet to the Sisters of Saint Joseph at Saint-Martin-en-Coailleux, Opotiki

Translated by Mary Williamson, August 2021.


Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.


One sheet of paper and one half sheet, forming six pages, five of which are written on, the sixth having only the address and Father Poupinel’s annotation.


[p.6] [Address]
Madam the Superior of the Sisters of Saint Joseph / at Saint Martin Coailleu near to Saint Chamond / Loire / France.


[in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Opotiki 10 October1841 / Father Rozet.


[p.1]
New Zealand, Opotiki, 10 October 1841


My very dear Sisters,
[1]
Here I am, arrived at the place I was destined for, at the end of the world, almost under your feet. The hand of God has led me here. There has never been a voyage more fortunate than ours, not even the smallest of storms, not the slightest of danger. We embarked under the care of Mary. That good mother has watched over us. We arrived safely in port. I am situated in quite a pleasant spot; Opotiki, where I live with a tribe in a fine house of rushes, situated close to the sea; two small fresh water streams border it in a semi circle. Behind it a beautiful plain about six to eight leagues long stretches out; bordered by mountains, covered with gigantic lush green trees that frame the view which only stretches for two leagues before the unleashed violent winds whip up the seas to its very depths. The waves roar with a muffled sound. They rise to a great height and their deafening sound, heard in the night, lulls me to sleep, because the sound of the angry sea has the same effect on a man as the winds when they blow fitfully and both equally waft one off to sleep. From my house I can also see a volcano. It is on an island [1] that is 8 leagues from me. When the weather is clear, I can see billowing smoke that puffs out from this fiery island and during a clear night you can also see flames cast into the air.
[2]
The natives of this country are like big children and we must make men of them before we can make then Christians. One must be very firm to succeed with them. If at the beginning one does not make them a little fearful, if one is too kind, they will soon abuse that kindness. They demand everything that comes to mind: Clothes, medicines, blankets; they have even asked me for my glasses to hang them form their ears, but I pretend to become angry when they are too annoying and they go away, only to return again soon.
[3]
During these current months, October, November, December and January, they mainly leave me in peace, as they go away, two leagues from here, to plant their potatoes, kumara and taro. They harvest them at the end of January and during all of February and after this they return to their villages. Do not think that they pass all their time there without seeing their priest. They return every Saturday evening or Sunday morning to take part in mass, which they call the big prayer, karakia nui. Here Sundays are better observed than in France. They are careful not to work, our good savages, they are very careful not to work on this particular day. They spend the whole day resting.
[4]
News in this country spreads with astonishing speed. They do not have telegraph; nevertheless, in three or four days a news item spreads across four hundred leagues of the country. This spirit of curiosity, of wishing to know everything serves religion wonderfully. It is by this means that it has reached tribes that have never seen a priest and who nevertheless call themselves Catholics and also say prayers from the Catholic church and who nevertheless know by heart, no doubt without understanding them, our Father, hail Mary, belief in God, the sign of the Cross and the principal truths of religion which have been translated into the Maori language and have been printed. We have found these little books which have been handed out at one end of the North Island and which, passing from hand to hand, have been found refuge intact at the very bottom of the South Island which is four hundred leagues long. In the last trip that the Bishop made, he arrived in a place that neither he nor his priests had ever visited and where a Protestant minister lived. Nevertheless the great majority, though tormented by the idea of heresy, were Catholic. They all knew the little book perfectly by heart. A fine old man, chief of the tribe, climbed up on a sort of barrel and there, in the presence of the Bishop, he offered a prayer to his tribe but, as their belief was not strong enough, he said to them, shout out even louder, even louder and he showed by example, shouting at the top of his voice. Then when this was all finished, well, he said to the Bishop now you should be satisfied, you have seen that we have good lungs, we are not like you who can hardly breathe. It is we who know how to pray. Oh, what good the priests could do here if there were more of them. Pray that the vocation of the missions embraces a great number. There are more than four hundred tribes spread throughout an area of four hundred leagues and we are only a dozen, for so many people. In the meantime, how we wish for, how we long for a priest. A priest, give us a priest, this is what we hear wherever we go. No doubt there are some crosses to bear here as well as in Europe. They are numerous, they are heavy, but God helps us to carry them and besides, life is so unimportant. Our days here pass so rapidly, what does it matter whether they might have been hard or whether they have been passed joyfully, since death puts an end to everything, and the tomb will change these crosses, these troubles, these passing tribulations into eternal recompense, into a shining crown in heaven.
[5]
The natives, at least the chiefs, do not lack common sense. One of them named Tangaroa, the chief at Maketu and who lived for two and a half months in the Bay of Islands, where the Bishop’s house is, to wait for a priest, presented, along with another chief who was his friend, a very sensible discourse. They both thought that they would not be understood, they spoke about religion and this is what Tangaroa said: Woman is a superior being to man. The Protestant missionaries have come here with their wives. Their supreme happiness is therefore down here and not in heaven. They cannot love God as a true minister of God should do, since their wife shares their heart. When they speak to us about religion, their conversation is false, their books misleading. The Catholic priests have come without wives, their supreme happiness is therefore not down here, their hearts are not shared. They truly love us, they truly love their God, their religion is good, their lips are pure, their conversations true.
[6]
As they spoke in front of him of the undesirable vices that the Protestant missionaries had introduced into this country and of the shameful passions to which several of them succumbed, he replied: This is not surprising. The sons are like their father; Luther was an adulterer; the sons imitate him.
[7]
Here too is what they will say about Protestant missionaries. Luther was a child of the Catholic church, a priest of the true church. He caused trouble. The Pope chased him from our society. Then he took a wife, stole the holy book and said: The old religion is bad; mine is the right one. This chief had had only three months of instruction in the Catholic religion. He is a great warrior, a genuine cannibal who has often satisfied his hunger with the flesh of his vanquished enemies. He came ashore in enemy territory. He feared for his life; Bishop, he said to the Bishop in the craft that was bringing them ashore, Bishop, I do not know what will happen to me today. Perhaps I will come back alive, perhaps I will be dead, but I fear nothing, I only fear God. Then he began to make the sign of the cross and to murmur very quietly the few prayers that he knew. He harassed the Bishop to teach him the rest of the Creed. Instruct me in my beliefs, he said, so that I might be quickly taught. In the speech that he presented to the enemy tribe, he spoke of his trip to the Bay of islands to ask for a priest. Now that I have one, he said, now that I am converted to the true way of prayer, I wish for peace, I wish to love all men. Then in finishing, he cried out: My wealth, it is the Bishop.
[8]
I have spoken to you about observing Sunday. Here is an example which shows how scrupulous one must be on this matter. The chief of a tribe had been travelling all week. He arrived home on Sunday. It was quite late at night, the next day, Sunday, he was obliged to go and dig potatoes in his field so as to be able to feed himself. The Protestant natives who saw him told him that this was not allowed, that it was very wrong, a grave sin. He defended himself as best he could. He said that certainly God could not find this wrong as, having nothing to eat on Sunday, he allowed this on this day and it was better to do some light work on this particular day than to let himself die of hunger and that that was what the Bishop had told him; briefly, with lots of words they came to have a disagreement. The next day the chief travelled two and a half leagues expressly to find out if he had correctly retained the ruling and expressed it well and when the Bishop told him that he had, his face was radiant. He jumped for joy. But that is not all, he started to say, we also argued a lot. You were wrong, replied the Bishop: I told him a wrong fact and then an even worse one. The good Lord is offended by it isn’t he! No doubt, he was told, by there is a cure. You must appease him, ask for forgiveness and promise not to do it again. Ah! right, that is very good, very fair. Help me to do it and it followed that the Bishop organised an act of contrition that he repeated after him and went away content.
[9]
On the visits that we make, we are overwhelmed. When we arrive, they crowd around, they surround us. When will we be sent some priests? Have you some big books for us? Have you brought us a bell? These are the first questions. We tell them that in the future they will have all that, that they must have patience, that whilst they are waiting we will come to instruct them. Well then, they promptly reply, instruct us now and there we are, pushed along to the house of the chief and one part of the night passes with us teaching them to pray and chant. Then there is almost always the question of conscience. When it is two or three hours after midnight, we point out to them that we have travelled a long distance and that we are desperate for sleep. That is fair, they say, so sleep, but scarcely four or five minutes later, there they are pushing at us: Tell us then, ariki, priest, and it is this and that and when the entire night has been passed in making you talk and when they have nothing more to say, they are happy. Now we are satisfied, one of them says, my spirit is illuminated.
[10]
I was present at the baptism of one of the highest chiefs in New Zealand, the famous Moka. In his time he had been a fearless warrior and his stomach had served as the tomb for many of his enemies, as once they were killed he ate them. For a long time he had given his name to the Catholic religion. He had made several tribes turn to this same religion. Nevertheless, he never appeared at prayers. I do not wish to be baptised yet, he said to the Bishop, because if I did something wrong afterwards, you would not be upset at having to teach me a lesson as you have done to several others and I would be too humiliated. Besides, this Moka is one of the most knowledgeable and he knows perfectly well what is the difference between the Catholic and Protestant religions. We learned, at Kororareka, that an old wound that he had received during one of his numerous battles had opened up again and that his life was threatened. I accompanied the Bishop on the visit that he paid to him right away. During that first visit, not much was said. The next day the Bishop returned to see him; he spoke to him about religion. No doubt God had spoken to him. The moment of grace had arrived for him: You have come to see me twice, he said to the Bishop. This must not be unprofitable. Come back tomorrow to finish my instruction and then you can baptise me. This shows how much the New Zealanders value a visit, and the smallest of attentions. Later he confirmed his promise to be baptised with a handshake. In New Zealand a chief does not make this sort of promise unless he means to keep it. The next day the Bishop came back with everything that was needed for a baptism and when he was being instructed, he made a few objections, which showed how much he was understanding of what was said to him. I was his godfather. When during the ceremony of baptism he was asked if he renounced Satan, he said yes; and if he renounced all his vanities, he seemed astonished as if his word was doubted: I have already said to you, he replied to the Bishop, that I renounced Satan and all evil. Why then do you not trust me. Am I a liar then? But it was especially when he was asked if he wished to be baptised that he had a strange expression. He looked at the Bishop with an expression that seemed to say: I think that you are dreaming, do you take me for a child. If I had not wished to be baptised, would I have asked it of you. He calmed down though when the Bishop said to him that he would certainly keep to his word but that baptism was a ceremony. Baptism was carried out under a shelter three feet high. The Bishop was obliged to kneel down to put on his vestments and he stayed in this position for the whole ceremony. Several members of the tribe were spectators, squatting on their heals and wrapped in their blankets. During the baptism they consulted among themselves on the name to give their chief. He wanted a fine sounding name and one of a great prince. The name of the pope was suggested Kerekorio in their own language. They did not find it impressive enough. They were offered several others. They did not like any of them. So after some discussion, they agreed to call him epicopo, a name given to the Bishop and which means bishop. He had a great deal of trouble to make them understand that that was a name of rank and not a holy name. Finally, he made them accept his baptismal name, Jean Baptiste, Hoane Papita.
[11]
After the baptism, we went to see a tribe who had not been visited for eight months. We were received in a large rush house, full of smoke. The Bishop had a request for them. They knew their prayers quite well, but the sign of the cross had been forgotten. The Bishop taught them how to do it and, after a dozen lessons, they managed quite well. I noticed a small child of about two or three years, beautiful as an angel, but entirely naked. He wished to make the sign of the cross. He moved his hand all over the place, to his eyes, nose, mouth, chin, ears and behind his neck. Finally, thanks to his parents, he was able to learn it.
[12]
Here then is a letter, I think, that is long enough. I have given you, I think, a long enough lesson in history. Now that I have fulfilled my promise, it is your turn, my dear sisters, to fulfil yours. When will this fruitful day arrive? I am sure that you have thought about it, but you cannot be satisfied with just thinking about it, you will have to work on it. My vestments are very poor. If a kind thought came to the curate, you could, with his assistance, send me a silk vestment in red and white with a small elegant embroidery in gold in the middle of the cross. This would show your generosity and devotion to the missions, you could say.
[13]
Pay my respects to the Monet family. I often think about the beautiful countryside of Bagnerat [2] and even more of those who live there.
[14]
And my good parish priest, [3] I think that he will have received my letter. I wrote to him at some length from Sydney. I am still very fond of him; I asked him to have sent to me the carton of cloths for covering the sacred vessels that I forgot when I left, as this letter will certainly be seen by him. So may he read then, in full, that neither he, nor his parish, nor the good Benoite will ever leave my thoughts or my prayers. May they all pray for me and for my mission.
[15]
And you too, my very dear sisters, I think of you all. God is my witness that I have never, one single time, offered the holy sacrifice of mass without having you all present in my thoughts. Please do the same for me. Please pray and have your pupils pray for he who has the honour calling himself,
Your very devoted servant,
Louis Rozet, missionary apostolic.
[16]
Whatever you send me, belongings and letters, wrap them well in a parcel addressed to me that you will send to Lyon care of the Marists, Saint Barthelemy Rise, no. 4.

Notes

  1. White Island (Maori name Whakaari) in the Bay of Plenty ( cf. Encyclopaedia of N.Z. , vol.3, 653-654).
  2. the hamlet of Bagnara is near to Saint-Martin-en-Coailleux (Loire)
  3. Rozet, diocesan priest (only professed a Marist on 10 September 1854): after his ordination in 1837, he was sent as vicar to Saint-Martin-en-Coailleux, where the abbot Jean-Louis Durbize (Durbise) had been curate since 1823; to this latter person he wrote on 7 December 1840, on the eve of his departure from London (cf.OM 4, p. 422; articles about Rozet, stored at APM, dossier Rozet: “From St-Martin to New Zealand”, no 1 and 2, in Pax ( monthly bulletin of the parish of Saint-Martin-en-Coailleux, 1938-1939).