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24 May, 10 & 11 July 1842 — Father Joseph Chevron to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, January 2015


[Address]
Father Colin, Superior of the Marists, 4 St Barthelemy Rise, Lyons, France


J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
Uvea 24 May 1842
Father Superior-General
[1]
I am really disappointed to have only a few very short moments to write to you. To copy out in a moment some things said to be necessary, to be present tomorrow at the planting of the mission cross, to go from there to my parish to carry out the ceremonies for the feast of Corpus Christi, then to come back to make up my little bundle in order to leave on Friday,[1] that’s a lot of work. A little letter which I had the honour of writing to you to tell you about the martyrdom of Father Chanel, some others which Father Bataillon has written to you, should have made you up to date with our situation. For a long time it was very precarious. The delays relating to the Bishop’s visit had put this mission within a hair’s breadth of its collapse, you know what happened to the mission in Futuna. The Bishop’s visit, his stay here since December, added to the appearance of the French corvette, have [all] resurrected the Uvea mission – it is now in a satisfactory situation. However not all is yet finished, the rose has its thorns. There are very few natives left in the catechumenate. A young native,[2] influential in Futuna, instructed at first by Father Chanel, and forced to take refuge in Uvea after a war in which he had been miraculously saved by the Blessed Virgin whose medallion he was wearing, has returned to Futuna to instruct his relatives. The young chief from Uvea,[3] about whom Father Bataillon has told you, who had at first been the Providential instrument for the conversion of this island, and who had become that of Hell to get it to go back to its earlier licentiousness, under various pretexts has escaped baptism, has left on a whaling ship for Futuna, accompanied by 300 or 400 natives, men and women. He has gone, it is said, to turn back the island. We have not yet received any news. I am going to talk to the Bishop about visiting the island and staying there, if there is any hope of doing some good there.
[2]
What troubles me in all that, is that I am informed that wherever I go, I will remain alone until the schooner returns. It is widely declared that a return in 4 or 5 months is likely, but I am scarcely relying on it. So irregular dispatches of men and so slow sending of money, says the Bishop, mean it is impossible for the mission to have a ship, so necessary in the tropics, for a long time more, and puts the mission in a truly desperate situation. If [only?] we had our eyes constantly fixed on the mountains from which will come our real help.[4] We also, fairly often, regret the consequence of this position. I strongly doubt whether the missionaries in these tropics can work for long years in the vineyard of the Lord. It is a reason for happiness, no doubt, to see the days of one’s pilgrimage shorten, but when the small number of workers and the huge extent of the territory to be worked over are seen, you have to wonder, sadly, who, in a few years’ time, will cultivate these still so tender plants. My health, without being probably what it would be in France, still amazes me, when I see the condition of those priests who seemed to be men of iron. And all that may be said, Father Superior, without complaint and regret. I am doing nothing but showing you our situation, and obeying the desire you have so often shown us that we frankly set out our situation for you.
[3]
(Tonga, 10 July 1842)I was relying on our stay here to continue this letter, [but] I can only ask you to excuse me; the unbelievable annoyances which we have been subjected to here have obliged me to stay on land and support those who have declared themselves to be our friends. Be so kind, please, as to accept the assurance of the deep respect with which I have the honour to be,
Father Superior-General,
Your devoted servant,
J(oseph) Chevron

Notes

  1. The author describes a succession of days: the 25th May (the day after the day on which he is writing, “the planting of the mission cross”; the day following, the 26th May (date of Corpus Christi in 1842), then, the following day, Friday 27th May; the day of the embarkation of Bishop Pompallier and Fathers Chevron, Servant and Roulleaux on the mission schooner. On 28th May the anchor is raised and Uvea (Wallis) is left. A call at Futuna is made to go to the martyr’s grave, and two priests are left there to resume the mission there with Brother Marie-Nizier Delorme. Pompallier accompanies Chevron and Attale to Tonga to found the mission there. (Cf. Doc 153 [12-13]; Cf. also Rozier Écrits Chanel p29)
  2. Keletaona (Cf Doc 133 [5]; 153 [16] [19]; 162 [3])
  3. Tu’ungahala, chief of the islet Nuku’atea (Cf Doc 28 [19], 125 [3], 291[3], 328 [9], 342 [3]
  4. Cf. Ps 121 (120):1-2 – “I raise my eyes to the mountains: from where will come my help? Help comes to me from the Lord, creator of heaven and earth.”