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3 September 1842 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Father Jean-Baptiste Épalle, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2015


Jesus, Mary, Joseph


Mission of St Peter and St Paul
Bay of Islands, 3 September 1842


To the Reverend Father Épalle, pro-vicar apostolic of the mission of Western Oceania.
Reverend and very dear Father,
[1]
I have got back from my long journey to the tropics, where I have been for seven months. I don’t have the time, today, to tell you any news, which is most interesting. It’s enough for me to tell you that during the time I worked in Wallis, Futuna and Tongatapu, the good God deigned to pour his graces in torrents on all these peoples. Yes, Tongatapu, beloved Tongatapu, I now see it as conquered for our holy mother, the Roman Church. How many things there are to be said about all the circumstances of my stays in the islands. But I have hardly arrived here when I am being told that a ship anchored in the harbour is going to leave for Sydney. I am quickly taking advantage of that to write you these few words. The signal for the departure of this ship has been given, the flag is flying.
[2]
On my arrival here I learnt of your departure with pleasure and with regret. With pleasure, because I saw in that your devotion to me and for the mission, then hoping that God will be with you under Mary’s protection, I am waiting for happy results for the whole vicariate apostolic. With regret, because I am deprived of your presence here, and if you had been able to wait for me (I arrived here on the 26th August), I would have given you some letters and manuscripts which were such as to give your voyage more abundant chances of success. But you still have my confidence, my satisfaction and my blessing wherever you go. Stay in Lyons until you get my letters for the Sacred Congregation Propaganda Fide and for the Court of France. I need several days of work for that. I hope that within three weeks there will be another ship going to Sydney, and with the help of the French consul who is based right in Sydney, my letters will get to you safely.
[3]
Quickly, here is a summary of my voyage and my stays in the tropical islands. 1) In Vava’u the threat of the French corvette to the native authorities of the island, if in future there was any use of intolerance or refusal of protection to any French citizen, however honest he might be, and especially to the Catholic Bishop and his people. The Wesleyan missionaries especially shivered with fury at seeing the dignity and the power of France, and at a new appearance of the Bishop in my person. (I was in Vava’u at the same time as the corvette. The chiefs of the island came to see me, begged me to forget the past, and [asked] that we would be good friends in the future and from then on. Benedicamus Domino.
[4]
In Wallis, on my arrival, the mission was in a really slack condition. If I hadn’t stayed there, Fathers Bataillon and Chevron would have begged me to send them away, with me as well. So I decided to carry on the fight with them until the end. At the end of a fortnight’s work after three weeks’ earlier visiting the villages of the island, the Lord gave me the ability to preach in the language of the island; in less than four and a half months the whole island had been baptised and confirmed, except 5 or 6 people who have not yet been prepared enough. The population is about 2,650. This church coming to birth overwhelms me with consolation at the faith, the love and the fervour of the neophytes. King Lavelua,[1] formerly a persecutor of the [Christian] religion, is now one of the children of the Church, through baptism and confirmation. The number of adults whom I have baptised myself is 2,200 or more. All the children, after having been baptised by one or other of the missionaries, have been confirmed as well. A large mission cross was solemnly erected by the Bishop on the eve of his departure from Wallis.
[5]
When I got to Futuna, there was no recognised king there. I urged the people to elect a chief to be king; they chose a fine man (Sam or Petelo)[2] for this high responsibility. He has been catechist of the whole island since the coming of the corvette l’Allier; and all the people were carrying out the prayers when I arrived. He knew only the oneness of God, the sign of the Cross, the Hail Mary and the substance of God’s commandments. I got Father Chevron and Brother Marie- Nizier to help me prepare for baptism those who were most desperate to receive it. In ten days I conferred it, with confirmation, on about 120 people. The new king, the queen, and their little princess gave the example.
[6]
I entrusted the mission to the Reverend Father Servant and Roulleaux; Brother Marie–Nizier is with them; that’s all a bit provisory. It was so as not to let that land watered by the blood of a martyr be overcome by heresy, which goes about like a raging lion.[3] Ascension [Island] has not yet been able to receive the mission.
[7]
From Futuna to Fiji, where a native catechist (baptised, confirmed and knowledgeable) was left, with enough faculties.
[8]
From Fiji to Tongatapu, where there is a population of 12,000; most interesting people. Few Wesleyans, but a lot of devils. All of these gave me a very warm welcome. I spent 10 days there. The chief and several other people were converted to the Catholic faith through our discussions, and all the other devils, about 10,000, were so disposed as to give hope of solid belief. They have all turned to the teaching of the Church; with gratitude and great joy they have received Father Chevron, who is now living in that vaunted fort at Pea, which resisted an English corvette.[4] Here, we are busy sending a priest to join Father Chevron who is there with Brother Attale.
[9]
New Zealand, alas, is languishing in many places. No books, heresy harasses us, ravages us afar. I am staying here to arouse the confrères to fire and fury. Alas, how much the shortage of money brings suffering to this so interesting mission!
[10]
Before everything else, dear Father, work as hard as you can to improve the material side of our mission. Be an angel of peace, many false reports and misunderstandings have led to things being wrongly seen in Lyons. It’s not true that the ship costs 100 fr a day; at the most, it’s 55 fr a day. It’s not true either that the voyage to the tropics, without calling at the Bay of Islands, cost 500 pounds. It was only about 70 pounds, I am going to detail everything in another letter. It’s a misfortune for this mission that everyone wants to judge it and take a hand in directing it; there is no-one here, even the pit-sawyers and the shoemakers, who hesitates to take part in the court of verdicts against the Bishop and those who give me the assistance of their ministry.
[11] (in the margin and crosswise)
Here I beg, for the good of these works, which people understand very little, that nothing be changed until my letters have got to you and have been read. Without that, one could risk being seen as having overlooked things which cannot be guessed at from afar, but which are noticed here through observation and experience. My friend, look carefully at vocations; if a man is already a member of the Society, make sure he has properly finished his novitiate, if he is not, take care that he has the qualities mentioned in foregoing letters. Get people to pray fervently for me, for the missionaries and the mission. I have been badly misunderstood in my letters. I am going to write to the Reverend Father Superior-General and to several other people. I am not going to leave my study until I have finished my correspondence.
I am all yours, in Jesus and Mary.
+ J B F Pompallier, Bishop, Vicar-Apostolic.
[12]
P S It would be really necessary to try to send something with which to pay off the sums of money and the interest on them that have been borrowed. My really sincere thanks to Father Poupinel for all the trouble he goes to, and the difficulties he overcomes on behalf of our work. At this point I ask him to be responsible for getting from my family the income from some money which I have left with them. This income will be of use to the congregation by compensating it for the costs it incurs by consecrating one of its good members, in the person of Father Poupinel, for this mission. As for you, you are a member of the mission. Take what you need from the allocations made by the (Society for the) Propagation of the Faith for your visits and journeys in Europe. I am going to write very soon to Father Poupinel and a host of (other) people. F(rançois)

Notes

  1. Lavelua: dynastic name, his personal name was Vaimua (according to Rozier: Ecrits Chanel, p 205 f/n
  2. Petelo is the name given by Pompallier to Keletaona, surnamed Sam. See also mentions by Viard,(doc 133[5] f/n 3) by Chevron ( cf doc 153 [16] f/n 6 [19], doc 162 [3] and by Pompallier himself (doc 217 [2-3]).
  3. Cf. 1Peter 5:8 Be sober and watchful, your adversary, the devil, goes about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
  4. About the attack led by Captain Croker, see doc 264 [19], and also doc 153 [21]f/n 8. About the defences of the fort at Pea, see doc 261[13]