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Fr Jean Pézant to Fr Victor Poupinel, Tauranga, 7 May 1842

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, July 2008


To Reverend Father Poupinel, in Lyons


J[esus] M[ary] J[oseph]


Tauranga (pronounced Taouranga) Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, this 7th May 1842


Well-beloved confrère and Very Reverend Father in Our Lord
[1]
I am writing to you at the beginning of the month of Mary and therefore the beginning of winter: this fact informs you clearly enough that my former wishes have been fulfilled and that we are at opposite ends of this passing world. No, very dear confrère, it is no longer a wish but a reality for me and it is true, really true, that I am in New Zealand, in this wonderful land which is diametrically opposite old Europe and for which so many ardent prayers are being offered up. Yes, I am there, and you are not, you will perhaps never be there: so sit and stew. [1] Go hang, fine Crillon, we fought at Arques, and you weren’t there! [2]
[2]
During the year I have been in Tauranga, I have had five public debates with the English Protestants in front of the natives. They attacked me twice, when I was beginning to stammer the language (that’s what they do fairly often, so brave they are!); and on three other occasions I attacked them. God gave me the grace of beating them every time. On the last occasion all three of us, Father Séon, Father Borjon and I, were all together. There you see, very dear confrère, what we are forced to do to destroy the calumnies with which heresy never ceases to blacken us, us and our holy faith. There are no lies which they do not spout forth, and by which they blind their poor natives and try to seduce ours. It is through these face to face struggles that we have succeeded in shutting them up for the time being. Father Borjon, although newly arrived, put one of them through the quia in a fine way,[3] by asking him who were the leaders of his church who came immediately after the apostles, because they were bold enough to say that their church came from Jesus Christ and the apostles. I will not speak about the contests we have with the native or Maori Protestants (from now on you will have to get used to this name Maoris to designate the New Zealanders; it is the name they use for themselves: te tangata Maori, literally the Maori person or New Zealander); at the start we had a lot of komiti (committees – meetings) with them; they would come to attack us; proudly armed with their Maorified New Testament; now they no longer dare; because they have been humiliated and confounded, they stay at peace.
[4]
These New Zealand Protestants or mitinere (missionaries) as they are called here, have a self-importance, an insolence, an obstinacy equal to their ignorance; one told me that Jesus Christ had not washed his disciples’ feet on the night before he died, but that it was the Holy Spirit who had washed the feet of the Apostles’ hearts (chew on that, if you can); another, whom I asked for the names of the apostles’ children and wives, showed me Chapter 3 of Saint Luke, where you find Our Lord’s ancestors, another named for me Jacob’s twelve children; in general the Maori missionaries (the Protestants) have a look of pride and insolence, a surly look, which makes them immediately recognisable as Protestants; they drive you mad with this New Testament of which they understand nothing; they are always teasing our people, trying to attract them to their position; they are liars as much as their teachers; whatever they all say, they are now no longer believed when we say the opposite.
[5]
In New Zealand as elsewhere, it is always still the pravitas haeretica[4] that the Fathers[5] speak about. You cannot help feeling great compassion when you see these poor childlike natives, some of whom exceptionally are interesting, being seduced, tricked and perverted by these wretched European ministers who speculate about and declaim at great length against pictures, the crucifix and consecrated celibacy.
[6]
The epikopo on the contrary (that is the name for the Catholics, from the name that the Bishop has given himself; the Bishop, te epikopo), our epikopos have a simple, modest and peaceful look by which strangers can pick them out at a single glance; they fear the Protestants as fine people in France fear bad people, which gives us plenty of work to do.[6] However, when they get going, they beat the Protestant missionaries, even the white missionaries. I have a little pa (or village fortified by wooden palisades) where our people recently rebuffed for us[7] as has to be seen, however, honestly and gently, the white Protestant ministers’ leader. He went away confused and having no desire to attack them again soon.
[7]
Heresy does a lot of harm; it has been accepted by roughly half the population, but we have almost all the chiefs, especially the notable and influential chiefs who, by the way, are as childlike as their people. It is this childishness and the passions of the human heart (which is the same here as in Europe) which allow entry to heresy. We have sad days, we have happy days, we are a bit like soldiers. There is indeed as certain pleasure in going, with boots on our feet and crucifix in our belts, through the forests and swamps of this New Zealand for the name of Jesus Christ; in going from bay to bay in primitive canoes to visit and instruct these scattered tribes.
[8]
These people are not savages now; they are the farmers of our country districts with the childishness of a half-civilised people; they will, however, speak to you about eating human flesh with indifference which obviously declares their former barbarism. It is [only] five or six years since they were still eating each other, almost all of them today have shared in these horrible feasts. This very year many wars were announced, and then nothing happened, and there is no sign that there will be any for a long time, they are gradually being tamed.
[9]
I end with a few words about moko or tattooing; it consists of very regular lines which are made on the face with a little awl and a sort of locally made ink; this moko gives them a warlike appearance. In their view it is a beautiful thing. But if you want to get a really true idea of that, like everything else, there is a very simple way… come and see it.
[10]
Excuse me, Reverend Father, if I end so soon a conversation which is so pleasant for me and a letter which has to go so far: we are very busy; we have no books yet, and we have to almost continuously copy the prayers. So make it clear to the Blessed Virgin, especially at Fourvières,[8] that if she allowed heresy to triumph here, it would not be an honour for the Church and her dear son, nor for her Society, and that she would cease to deserve this fine compliment from the Church: Gaude, Maria virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti in universo.[9] It will redound so much more to her honour because heresy has in its favour here all human means, length of time, knowledge of the language and customs, wealth; we, we have absolutely nothing on our side but the truth, Jesus and Mary; everything else is against us. But, anyway, we would not give up what we have for the whole universe. Are we wrong?
[11]
In finishing, I am forced to tell you that the time seems to me to have come to get the chiefs to write to the Reverend Father. My respects and best wishes to all the confrères. Please accept again my thanks for all the care you have taken and which you take every day for us and the mission. Adieu!
Your very unworthy confrère
J(ean) Pézant,
Missionary apostolic priest of the Society of Mary
[12]
Has [my letter of] 1840 arrived yet?
[13]
Pray for me and the Tauranga mission.
[14] (in the margin)
In spite of wanting to, I cannot right now reply to Father Eymard, but I will do so as soon as I can. Could I forget him?...
[15]
If Very Reverend Father is agreeable, please send me a Feller,[10] a Menochius,[11] which I have in Lyons, the Confessions of St Augustine, and an alb made of embroidered tulle. All those things will be very useful here. Please add a Concordance of the Bible.
[16] [In a margin]
If you can get me a Month of Mary, said to be by Father Olier, [12] for the use of priests, you would be so much a finer fellow; I have the one for the use of seminarians. But using it too much is turning me off it.
[17] [In a margin]
Please write to the parish priest of Our Lady of Victories in Paris, to commend to the archconfraternity’s prayers my brother, who has little sense of religion and greatly distresses my mother.

Notes

  1. bisquez donc
  2. A text modifed by Voltaire, from the statement made to Louis Balbis de Berton de Crillon (1543-1615) by Henry IV after the victory he won over the duke of Mayenne at Arques (near Dieppe) on 21 September 1589 - translator’s note.
  3. quia – ‘because’ or ‘wherefore’ in Latin, was seemingly used to indicate a deductive process of reasoning - translator’s note
  4. heretical depravity
  5. of the church, presumably - translator’s note
  6. ce qui nous donne beaucoup d’exercise
  7. où nos gens vous rembarrèrent… I cannot make sense of vous in this context: could have written nous - translator’s note
  8. sic – Fourvière today
  9. Rejoice, Virgin Mary, you alone have destroyed all the heresies in the whole world – the text is from the Roman Breviary of St Pius V, already cited by Bishop Pompallier in 1836 (Doc 6, para 9) and 1839 (doc 31, para 2) – C Girard footnote
  10. François-Xavier de Feller (1735-1802), a Belgian polemicist, a Jesuit 1735-1773, when the order was suppressed – author of several works defending Catholic faith – which particular one of his works was wanted by Pézant is not certain now
  11. Giovanni Menochio: his commentary on Sacred Scripture would be wanted
  12. Jean-Jacques Olier (1608-57) – founder of the church and seminary of St Sulpice and author of spiritual and devotional works