Girard0133

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16 &19 February 1842 — Fr Philippe Viard to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, January 2008


Maria sine labe concepta est [Mary was conceived without sin]

Bay of Islands 16 February 1842
Father and very dear Superior
[1]
Forgive me if I have remained so long without giving you some signs of my real gratitude and very sincere affection; quite often I have got ready to write to you but always I have met obstacles; you will be happy, after such a long delay, to accept this letter which I am privileged to send you; no doubt telling about a part of the latest voyage I made with the Bishop will interest you.
[2]
After having called at Auckland, Tauranga, Maketu, Opotiki, Mahia, we had been four weeks in Akaroa when we learned of the martyrdom of Father Chanel in the Futuna Islands; this news deeply afflicted us; we were consoled in the Lord, and we envied his bliss. At that time in Akaroa, a French colony which had been looked after for 18 months by the Reverend Fathers Comte and Tripe, were three French corvettes: The Aube, the Heroïne and the Allier; the last named two being under the control of Commander Lavaud; he shared greatly in our affliction and had already ordered the corvette Allier to leave in order to avenge the death of the missionary who had been assassinated; the Bishop took him aside and urgently begged him not to spill more blood; he was determined that the corvette would leave only to make it possible for the [mission] schooner to recover the precious remains of Father Chanel and to make the power of France feared in the future by peoples who had only a feeble idea of it. We left Akaroa and 28 days later we anchored at Vava’u.[1] There, Commander du Bouzet wanted to ask the natives of that island the reason for the harm they had done to the Bishop and those in his company by forbidding them to stay on their island. In a great meeting at which the main chiefs apart from the King, who was absent, were gathered, the Governor who took the place of his Majesty said in reply that it was not their fault; some missionaries had forbidden them from receiving them. The commander made them see their error, they certainly recognised it, and they promised that henceforth they would receive the French with as much pleasure as they would like to be received by them if ever they went to France. In this exchange the Commander showed a lot of prudence and devotion to duty; he received the natives very well and the natives were delighted with his goodness and his friendly ways; the natives showed all sorts of kindnesses to the Bishop and ourselves, and when we left them they showed us a great desire to have priests of the ancient and true church. Every day they came on board to sell their foodstuffs; one day they didn't come; I was surprised at that, but a European whose wife was a great penitencière,[2] noticing my surprise informed me that it was a day for confession: in each tribe, a woman was appointed to receive the confessions of the other women, and a man to receive those of the men; a report was then made to the Methodist missionary who imposed penances proportionate to the seriousness of the offences.
[3]
After a stay of several days at Vava’u we headed for Wallis and in four days we caught sight of Wallis. The Bishop, since arriving at Vava’u had stayed on the corvette; the commanding officer had already, at Akaroa, offered him a cabin on his ship; he thought he ought not accept it in spite of the repeated requests made him; myself, I remained in the schooner to ensure things were in good order. Hardly had the natives seen the corvette than several canoe loads of natives came on board. How great was the joy on both sides; the natives to welcome the Bishop after having waited for him so long, and the Bishop to learn that Fathers Bataillon and Chevron were in very good health and that the whole island was Catholic. We learned that the entry to the harbour was very narrow; the corvette stayed outside; the commanding officer provided the Bishop with a boat to take him on board the Sancta Maria; our ship, being much smaller, could enter without difficulty. It was six o'clock in the evening. In a moment the schooner was filled with the natives who came to greet us and to show us their gratitude. We couldn't see Fathers Bataillon and Chevron that day; their dwelling was too distant from the place where we dropped anchor. I was, nevertheless, about to set out, so keen was my desire to see them, but the Bishop pointed out to me that it was a bit too late. Early the next morning I took a boat from the ship and I had myself taken to the place where Father Bataillon lived; he was going to begin worship; already all the natives had gone to the church. I cannot express the joy I felt in my heart on again seeing this old friend who had always been so dear to me and whom I thought I would never see again; his joy was no less than mine. He invited me to say the Mass; I was extremely satisfied with the pious way in which these good catechumens took part in the holy sacrifice; they were seen to be full of respect for this great action; they delighted me with the unity and harmony which they put into the recitation of their prayers; during the Mass I did not fail to show my gratitude to Mary who, through her intercession with her divine Son, had overcome so many obstacles for the minister of Jesus Christ, had shielded him so many times from death and had obtained such abundant blessings for his nascent mission. The church service finished, I conversed for a short time with Fathers Bataillon and Chevron, and after having accepted a cup of kava from the chiefs who had gathered not far from the priest's house to honour me, we went on board the Sancta Maria. How sweet was the consolation for the Bishop to see these priests again, whom he had not been able to see for so long. How many times, nevertheless, had he attempted to find ways to get to where their mission was, but was always prevented from doing that by his many concerns; his presence in New Zealand was then so necessary that he could not have left it for some time without doing considerable harm to the large mission; the joy that a child experiences on again seeing a father whom he thought he would never see again is not as great as that which Father Bataillon experienced on seeing the Bishop again. We had lunch on board the schooner. Then the two priests took the Bishop to where he would stay and from that moment he stayed with them on land, and I on the schooner. Two days after our arrival the corvette tried to enter after sounding the depths, and it entered. The three days it stayed at anchor produced a wonderful effect. Those natives had formed for themselves a rather vague idea of France, but from the size of the ship and the great number of its guns they realised its strength which they had misunderstood up till then, and the Catholic religion received, in that area, a new lustre and new glory. Commander du Bouzet welcomed the chiefs aboard his ship with remarkable goodness and gentleness; he was not averse to humbling himself to condescend to the natives' weakness. I cannot find strong enough words to give him worthy praise; he edified them as much by his example as by his words; he overwhelmed them with his kindness; in particular he gave the king of the islands a gift of a superb suit striped in silver and a magnificent sword. We arrived in Wallis on a Thursday and on the following Sunday the Bishop solemnly officiated at Mass. What a fine sight; how edifying it was for these people to see the Commander and his officers all in formal dress, and a great number of their crew joined their prayers to theirs to offer them to the Almighty; right through the service the natives sang hymns which pleased us remarkably -- I will point out to you that the natives of tropical islands in general all have harmonious and very true voices. After the Mass the King gathered together all his people and he invited the Commander and his officers, the Bishop and ourselves, we lunched on the produce of the island and drank kava. That is the way they honour people.
[4]
All the natives on Wallis are sufficiently instructed and all long for baptism; the King, who for a long time had been opposed to the priest, finally has converted, thanks to the prayers of so many good people who prayed for him; but the impenetrable designs,[3] the man whom Providence used to bring him round has become an enemy of the priest's religion, opposes him to raise his own status and gives very bad example by his scandalous conduct. This young man is the king's nephew, he is deceitful and a complete hypocrite; while having no right to the Crown, he seems to have more authority than the King, and is now the only obstacle in Wallis to the total conversion of the island. I have the quiet confidence that Mary will obtain from God the perfect fulfilment of what she has happily begun.
[5]
The commanding officer has shown great affection for that young chief. The Bishop and I have seen him, spoken to him; he seems to want to do better in the future, but you don't dare put any trust in his promises. Father Bataillon thought that the Bishop by staying some time with him could bring him to a better attitude and baptise the whole island. The Bishop who is incapable of refusing anything when it involves the glory of God and the salvation of souls, gave in to the priest's urgings and so I left on my own for Futuna on the Sancta Maria, accompanied by the corvette L’Allier. It was Epiphany day.[4] I had sent Brother Marie-Nizièr on board the corvette to serve as interpreter to the commanding officer and Sam[5] a chief from Futuna, to give him information about the island. He had been in Wallis for a year and was very happy about returning to his island. His wife was on board the schooner and Father Bataillon had asked me to take her to Futuna with other women in the company of their husbands. Among this number was a well instructed Wallisian native whom the Fathers were sending to be a catechist.
[6]
After 24 hours of sailing we found Futuna, and were already thinking of arriving there when a contrary and very strong wind forced us out to sea, and for 14 days we were terribly tossed about by the waves of the sea, the time seemed to us to go very slowly. Each day however we were able to communicate for a few moments with the commanding officer of the corvette by means of megaphones; the natives we had on board cheered us up with their songs. We had so much pleasure in hearing them that several times a day we got them to repeat the same hymns; regularly morning and evening they said their prayers in loud voices and several times a week they said their rosary in a chant; they really edified the crew. Finally, after 15 days' sailing, Providence sent us a blessed[6] wind and we were able to come near Futuna, which up till then always seemed to be fleeing from us. The harbour not being safe, we were forced to still keep under sail; the natives, following their custom, catching sight of the ships, were not long in going out to board the corvette which was closer to the island than the schooner. The first canoe that arrived contained the natives who had been very fond of Father Chanel during his life; they were recognised, and given a great welcome; we found out from them that only a few months before the king and his prime minister had died, and that the general belief of the natives was that their deaths had been a punishment from God because they had assassinated Father Chanel; consternation reigned throughout the whole island. Nothing had yet been done to choose a successor to the dead king. According to what some natives said, several important people, impressed by the death of the king who was seen as immortal, would be converted. After a long conversation the commanding officer let them leave, as he did Sam, made responsible for bringing back Father Chanel's body, and to bring Musumusu who, in fact[7] had murdered him. The place was quite far away and they could come back only the following day. He saw a canoe from the victors’ camp but no sooner did the natives see that it was a warship than they took flight, fearing that they would be put to death. I will not remind you that there were two camps in Futuna, that of the victors and that of the vanquished; the first was against the Father and the second supported him. I will not recall to you the circumstances of his martyrdom and that noise like thunder that was heard above the house when the Father died. Father Chevron told me he had given you all these interesting details.[8]
[7]
Father Chanel's body was brought, wrapped in several mats, by the principal chief of the victors; it (he?) was greeted by a cannon shot. This native, after the Father's death, took special care of his grave, he was absent when the murder took place; when he heard this sad news, he was really dismayed. "Alas," he cried out in tones showing extreme sorrow, "then I will never see my father again, he who was so good and whom I loved so much, ah, if I had only been there, he would not have been killed, or I would have died at his feet." I have seen that good old man, and although he lived in the camp of those who had plotted the Father's death, he was not afraid to come on board the corvette.[9] But Musumusu did not want to come, even when he was told that he would not be done any harm. He repeated again and again that it was not his fault. It was the king who had ordered him to kill the Father because he had converted his son to religion.[10] The naval surgeon was asked by the corvette's commanding officer to inspect Father Chanel's remains which had just been brought to him from the land on a canoe. After a careful inspection he was able to establish the identity of these mortal remains, calling to mind the type of death suffered by the victim; he then arranged them as well as possible to be transported. These precious remains were immediately taken on board the schooner where I was happy to have so rich a treasure with me. On the evening of the same day there was a gathering of natives on board the warship. The commanding officer had them told, through Brother Nizier, that having been told of the murder of French missionaries, he had not put off for a moment travelling to Futuna to do away with all the natives, but that he had been deterred from his plan by the urgent pleadings of the Bishop who had asked mercy for them. Since God had brought about the deaths of the two guilty men, he would do them no harm, but they should be very careful to conduct themselves well in future, because if they ever happened to pull a single hair from a French missionary, there would be no more mercy, that they would all be doomed; that they had nothing more to fear now, and they should love this religion to which they owed their lives. The next day some natives brought the soutane which the Father had on when he was martyred, and on which bloodstains could still be found, his chalice, his white chasuble[11] and some books, some pictures. We could have gathered a bigger number of things if we had stayed longer; Commander du Bouzet was very anxious to get back to Akaroa. We left the natives in an excellent attitude, they begged us to forget their crime and to send someone to instruct them. Sam, that chief whom we had taken from Wallis to Futuna, besought us with hands clasped to send them a priest. We saluted that island which had been sprinkled with the blood of a martyr and we made sail for a few days with the corvette and then separated after having given each other our goodbyes. The corvette headed for Akaroa and we for the Bay of Islands to look for some priests and the goods which were destined for the tropics. We had the happiest of voyages. Here I am now in Kororareka, still in good health. I am waiting for some money to pay the wages of the captain and crew, and to equip the ship. When everything is ready I will immediately set out for Wallis to take priests there and to look for the Bishop; may Providence come quickly to our aid!
[8]
Right now the New Zealand mission demands, in a commanding way, the help of your prayers and those of the Society; no doubt Mary, our good mother and the foundation of this mission, wants to give us a share in her humiliations and the poverty she endured in this world, in order to then give us a share in the supreme happiness she now enjoys in heaven; may God's holy name be blessed!
[9]
Father and well beloved Superior, how much would I like to be totally dedicated to God and entirely detached from myself; I beg you, obtain that grace for me, and I will be eternally grateful to you -- I will consider myself very blessed if, in spite of your great concerns, you can make even a small reply to my letter. How helpful is a father's advice! And now allow one of your children to throw himself at your feet and ask you for your blessing.
Ph(ilippe) J(oseph) Viard
Pro-vicar, missionary
[10]
Today, Saturday 19 February 1842
I have received the abjuration[12] of a former ship's captain, Mr Applebe[13] and that of a young lady, Mary Danly, both from England, and I have conferred on them the sacrament of marriage.

Notes

  1. in Tonga -- translator’s note
  2. confessor? -- translator’s note
  3. of Providence, he seems to imply -- translator’s note
  4. January 6
  5. Keletaona, surnamed Sam on British whalers on which he had formerly sailed, was the great favourite of John Jones, an English trader living on Futuna and, through Jones, of the missionaries
  6. exultant
  7. ?de bon
  8. King Niuliki died in 1842 as a result of influenza. The "prime minister" who also died, would more accurately be called "a powerful chief supporting him". He cannot be more exactly identified. He was neither Musumusu, still alive, nor Maligi, a friend of Father Chanel – C Girard footnote
  9. his name was Maligi
  10. It seems most likely that the idea of killing Chanel originated with Musumusu, but it would have needed the positive approval of Niuliki to be carried out. There is agreement between witnesses that Musumusu and Niuliki were related pretty closely, but disagreement as to the exact nature of the relationship -- translator’s note
  11. ornement
  12. from Protestantism
  13. sic -- Appleby?