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21 & 23 October 1842 — Father Joseph Chevron to his family, Tonga

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2015

Tonga, 21 October 1842

My dear relatives,
While re-reading, from time to time, the letters I received last January, I looked forward with great pleasure to reading those that the schooner would bring me on its return. But, another sacrifice to be added to the others: no letters. You knew, no doubt, from the letters I sent you last July, that I am in Tonga, the main island of the Friendly islands archipelago, about 200 leagues [about 1,000 km] south of Uvea, (Wallis).[1] I am living in one of the forts, almost the smallest, but the best fortified. They are really European–style fortifications, with ditches etc. The name of the fort in which I am living is Pea. There are three other forts in which the neighbouring villages gather in time of war. One is Protestant, the other two are still pagan. It’s into these last-mentioned ones that I make my journeys. There is in each of them a little nucleus of catechumens – quite small yet, but he who has begun the work will make it perfect and will give it increase.
With the 30 neophytes who came from Uvea, there are, scattered about the island, roughly 200 catechumens, most of whom live in Bea. They are young plants. Pray to the Master of the vineyard that he give them the strength to resist the efforts of the devil, who fights here through paganism and heresy. You have to fight here both on the right and on the left. These poor catechumens have to take care of the salvation of their bodies and their souls. Like the Jews rebuilding the Temple,[2] they hold a spear or a club in one hand, and in the other the tool which they use to plant, and to care for their yams and banana palms. However it is only against the heretics that they have to defend their lives. The pagans are friends to us. As well, these self-styled “religious” people (that is what these natives converted to Christianity are called) hate both Catholics and pagans equally.
You couldn’t believe the lies that the Protestant missionary gentlemen have imputed to the Catholic religion. We came, they say, to deceive them; when they are converted, a French warship will arrive, land about thirty Frenchmen, and take away an equal number of natives to cut their throats or reduce them to slavery, then a second similar warship, then a third, until the island of Tonga will be completely peopled with French people, then, in the meantime those who have not yet had their throats cut will be forced to plant yams, fatten cattle, pigs and poultry, to be sent to France.
We missionaries, we cut the throats of little children to get them ready for the frying pan. Catholics are people who only delight in blood and debauchery; then, to fulfil the word of the Holy Spirit, Mentita est iniquitas sibi,[3] they add that if anyone commits a sin, they will be punished by blows with knotted cords, or will be torn to pieces with irons reddened in fire. Finally, they say, Catholic missionaries begin by preaching an easy-going religion, and when you have been converted, they will deal with you just like us. Indeed it is terrible, the way in which these apostles of a new sort treat their newly baptised. Their religion is a mixture of Jewish religion (in terms of practices) and the Christian religion. Wearing a necklace of flowers and smoking tobacco are great sins. The newly baptised are forced to confess in public every week, not to the missionary, that would be too much trouble for him, but to a native designated for that, and who gives an account of the confession to the missionary. The penance for a sin is the whip with a thick rope, under which the penitent falls, covered in blood; if he is too tough he is hit on the throat or on the cheek until his teeth are broken. I say nothing of which I have not seen the evidence, only too well shown on the poor natives’ bodies. The chiefs have the right to pay for their sins with some pieces of the local cloth. It is a great pity that I have to end without being able to describe to you the massacres carried out on the pagans who do not want to yield to their preaching. It’s enough to make your hair stand on end; as a native told me: if one day they are going to kill you, don’t think you will be just finished off with an axe-blow. May God be blessed. Naturally speaking, we have to be very determined, but we have in our favour the promises of Jesus Christ.
We are building the first church here. However I have not yet done any baptisms except in cases of sickness. Up to now I have been on my own with Brother Attale; Father Grange has just arrived, he is destined to stay with me. I have been so busy up to now, what with learning the language, giving instructions, translating the catechism and the prayers, that I have not been able to write you a letter. As well, being under pressure and preoccupied, I don’t know what to tell you any more. The natives who, since the seamen and the people on board have been going and coming, have been crowding the house continually, are preventing me from being able to tell you anything in an ordered way.
Something about my health, which continues to concern you. I have never, in my whole life, been as well as since arriving here, but I have to say we have overcome the two great remedies for all sicknesses: diet and water. Truly, we are losing ourselves in wanting to save others, we know no longer days of fast and abstinence, they are all removed from our calendar. Infirma mundi elegit deus ut confundat fortia.[4] Here indeed this saying is verified in every respect. It reminds me of all the good that a picture of the Blessed Virgin has brought about here. The effect it has had on the natives is unimaginable. God joins his graces to the things that please him. Oh, pray, and pray very much for us. A little time more and we will see each other again. Yes, we will see each other, and never more part.
People have just come to talk to me on behalf of a chief. They have already made several offerings, renewed this morning, to the devil, that of a finger cut off to satisfy the thirst for blood of that cannibal divinity. Although most of the natives have abandoned their former errors, there are some, still, who hold on to them. Alongside these disgusting practices of paganism, the good God, however, encourages us with great consolations. Yes, the consolations with which the good God fills us make us forget the bodily miseries that are associated with our situation.
Please remember me to the good people who pray for me, especially on Wednesdays, may the good God reward them for it. May our union in prayer gain for us the happiness of all being one day united in heaven.
23rd. Someone has just brought from the ship a trunk in which I have found some letters and two little boxes covered in waxed cloth, coming from Bellegarde. I haven’t the time to read the letters; only, I have seen that one came from Father Blanc, a thousand thanks to him, I will answer him later. I think I also caught sight of one from Fathers Collet and Malfroid; please thank them for me, and present them with my truly sincere respects. I will reply to them at the first opportunity; I haven’t a moment to spare.
My fondest regards to all our relatives, friends, and acquaintances from Bellegarde, Chatillon, Montange, etc, etc, to M Baroudel, to the priests of the parish, to our relatives in Lyons. I cannot write to Father Girard, kind regards to him, and through him to Belley, through him as well my deep respects to the Bishop. Oh, how disappointed I am to not be able to say something at greater length; but I am so bothered and hurried that it is impossible. Since this morning we have been resisting a terrible assault from Hell. It involved heresy and paganism. Today we still have to put up with the insults of the few who had sided with us; there isn’t even the consolation of being able to pray when we wish – the devil is getting upset, that’s good. It’s proof that he feels he’s in danger.
I cannot help laughing at seeing us in wretchedness, and great wretchedness, not up to the neck, but up to our mouths. May God be blessed. The devil must be really afraid for tormenting us like this. Yes, indeed man is nothing in the mission, a faithful person praying in France is very great, and the grace of God is everything. So take courage, we will not be fighting very long. It is good in times like these to embrace generously Him who would bring us the crown of martyrdom on the end of a spear or on the end of an axe; but this consolation we are not even allowed to desire; so many souls in the enemy’s hands; so many souls precious to God; that’s what gives one courage. Oh, pray, pray very much. Please tell Father Girard to remember me to the Poor Clares, to the good Sisters at Belley, and to all the pious people who are interested in our mission. You will see from the way I am writing how much I am under pressure; I have already re-started this letter six or seven times. Courage, courage, a little bit longer, and we will all meet in Heaven.
Farewell, dear mother, dear brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. I embrace you all with all my heart. I cannot name any of our relatives and friends, but convey to them all my sincere regards. I do not forget them. I recall all of them individually. I have been harassed for a good hour about the need to leave. Goodbye, or sooner, till we see each other in Heaven. Yes, in heaven, and soon, and with all of you. Goodbye, and let us love the good God with all our hearts.
J(oseph) Ch(evron)


  1. See the letter that Chevron began in Uvea (Wallis) 19 May 1842, and ended in Tonga 3 July (cf doc 161 [10])
  2. Cf Nehemiah 4: 11 -12 (quoted doc 122 [7] f/n 3)
  3. Ps 26 (27): 12. Do not give me up to the desires of my enemies, because false witnesses have risen up against me, spitting out violence.
  4. Cf 1Cor 1:27 But what is foolish in the sight of the world, God has chosen to confound the wise, what is weak in the sight of the world, God has chosen to confound what is strong.

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