From Marist Studies
28 Jan 1844 Claude-André Baty to Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney
Translated by Peter McConnell, May 2010 or see Brian Quin's translation
- Very reverend Father
- I’m using some free time which my present occupations allow me to send you some details concerning the mission in New Zealand. You have a deep fatherly affection for this mission. Very reverend and dear father, these details will not be other than some facts which I will tell you about as I have written them in my diary. I do not intend to give you here some general ideas concerning the mission nor shall I give you figures; that is not my job. I think it is worth telling you that I do not claim to be writing for the Annals. Others can do that better than I, but if it were decided by the way to publish some extracts from this letter, it would be necessary to cut out everything that could cause harm in this country where everything is known, and where our opponents are protected by the government, etc, etc.
- So I begin following my diary. The first fact which I find there worth communicating to you is an interview which I had several months ago with a Protestant Maori catechist in a tribe in the Bay of Islands. I have to tell you first that these catechists trained by their teachers know a lot of things which are explained to them as being against the Catholic Church and that they know almost only what is in the New Testament and in the other parts of sacred scripture translated into their language. I admit that a great number of these catechists in particular arte well conversant with the literal meaning of the New Testament, if only they had learnt the meaning and spirit of scripture in their schools; debating with such people is not easy because they argue (I am speaking generally). They say: we have been told this, so it is right. After this diversion I come back to what I was saying; so I went to visit in the Bay of Islands a tribe called Waikare. When I arrived in this tribe I had not been speaking long with the Catholic natives who make up the majority when I saw coming towards me a proud native, well dressed like Europeans, carrying books (under his arm), (I did not make a note of that in my diary but that is the most usual way they do it), and sitting down near me on the plaited mats of a shelter where I was sitting Maori style. (Perhaps it’s worth reminding you that there is nothing insulting in using the word Maori; it is the word the natives use to distinguish themselves from Whites). He almost immediately confronted me, spoke to me about faith, books, wakapakoko (idols), what is always the major battlefield, Nabuchodonosor,etc. Concerning the matter of faith, it appears that they have been told that we do not have any, because several times I understood him to be asking me the question, have you faith ? do you believe in God? etc. As the native was flitting from one subject to another, as is their wont, I would stop him and asked him first of all ; the words which forbid the making of images to worship are in the First Testament; our Lord Jesus Christ and Saint Paul, in referring back to the commandments in the New Testament, do not speak of defending the making of idols. So this native, surprisingly, said to me; I was right. In the same way when our teachers tell us that we should have only one wife and when we tell them that Lamech had two, they tell us that that was in the First Testament. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him speaking this way. While all the gathering was listening and while each one was well able to witness his erudition, one of the natives who were with me, it was Charles, godson of Commander Lavaud, referred to the words of Exodus which forbid making images and worshipping them and he said that the Catholic Church was not accustomed to making images of things of the sky, nor of the earth nor of the sea in order to bow down before them. I proceeded without making any comment and came to the matter of Nabuchodonosor. I picked up a branch of wood and drew a time table putting the creation of the world on the edge and at the bottom, then I added the main periods of history. Then showing him Nabuchodonosor well before Jesus Christ and even further from Luther and Henry VIII, I asked him how one is able to claim that he was the one who threw three Protestants into the furnace when he had been dead so long before Jesus Christ and the Catholics and even longer before they had heard the word Protestant on this earth? He did not persist and told me that he thought Nebuchodonsor was a Catholic and that the three Jews were Protestants. So I insisted on the point that he had to distrust those who were teaching him, that they were not telling him the truth, etc. I did not have to go into other examples to prove the point to him. Karora, this same Charles whom I spoke about previously gradually learnt the lies spun by our opponents before and after the arrival of Bishop Pompallier In New Zealand. As the catechist wanted to deny several matters and among other things that they had said that the Catholic missionaries were coming to take the lands from the Maoris and that to protect them they had to sell them to the Protestant missionaries as this catechist was saying that it was they the Maoris who had begged the Protestant missionaries to buy their lands (it was a subterfuge that the latter appear in a better light as far as the Maoris are concerned in order to exonerate themselves), the main chief there although Protestant in name spoke up and spoke vehemently against the seizure of lands by the Protestant missionaries; he said that the Catholic religion was the right one because for the three years that he saw Bishop Pompallier at the Bay of Islands he still saw only a kainga (house),etc. Another chief asked me whether I belonged to the same nationality as Marion. I told him I was. So he told me that New Zealand belonged to us because Marion had come here first, had been killed here, then his death had been paid for by the massacre of the Maoris of the Bay of Islands where he had been slain. He added that a Maori had left for France and had returned loaded with goods and with great ideas of the grandeur of the French nation. It seems that this chief had no grudge against Marion and that he had just told me that he had brought fleas to New Zealand when unloading a barrel. In brief these chiefs going from general points to particulars, showed naively what little regard they had for the one who was regarded as their master. Pointing to the rags which covered part of his body, the old chief said to me: there are my karukaru (bits, pieces that was the real appropriate term), he has my lands and, when I ask him for clothing, he says to me, Kei hea te utu? Where is your money? This so-called missionary, in concert with one of his colleagues, acted so as to have the little good land which this tribe owned; it has now the mountains and some scattered pieces of land and the pa, but the pa is wedged in between the river and the hedge of the said missionary.
- I am too verbose, very reverend father, but I cannot stop on my travels, I am always giving talks. Conversation is expressed in writing where poverty is recommended, anger forbidden, etc The catechist admitted to me that his teachers acted not in accordance with these texts. So I return to the article of lies and in this regard told him that a Protestant missionary had supported me publicly that they were not selling their books (that is like saying that here is no sun), that their prostrations, with their face on the ground, were not of those Europeans but a poka noa of the Maoris or something introduced illegally. As these lies were public, the catechist did not want to tell me he denied them, so I will read between the lines; therefore they can also say lies and indeed they do say effectively in regards to prayer. So this catechist probably ashamed seeing that he was the only one to hold that view admitted everything and said that those teachers became angry and that when they called them in the morning, if they did not get up on the first call, they were angry with them, that henceforth he wanted to rely only on scripture and did not need his teachers. Alas that was all that conversation was worth because it is grace which converts and grace demands co-operation; besides this conversation was interrupted by the local pastor who came and without saying anything to me turned back almost immediately taking with him those of his flock. A little before I reached this tribe the pastor had made a very severe reprimand, invoked the anger of the Maori gods against a Catholic who had fired a few shots for fun on Sundays. I was saying that co-operation with grace is essential for conversion, now the goodness of God often keeps means other than conversations to help this co-operation. I have seen plenty of natives converting from Protestantism to Catholicism. I have even seen several of their catechists but pretty always moved by other reasons than conviction, however these conversations are the best way of making truth known; they open the way and that’s sufficient when another motif is added.
- To the account mentioned above I add a detail which happened in another talk similar to the previous one; as in the former case the topic revolved around the books that our opponents sell so dearly (somebody interrupted and said: in the south a New Testament sells for a pig niho puta (whose teeth stick out, a detail which he expressed with his fingers). It revolved around the cloths we give through affection and which he claimed to be an enticement leading to hell, etc, etc. A chief made his confession saying that he turned to the bishop because: priests have no wives; their land purchases are few; they give things out of love; and are not always asking for money for the things he is given. I am not reflecting on these reasons except for the first one. The matter of celibacy is very powerful in the eyes of the natives to bind them to the Catholic priest and consequently to the faith. Besides it is customary or rather it was customary for the person who was trained to be a priest abstained from all dealings with the opposite sex as long as his training continued which it must be added would be a long time because he had to learn off by heart interminable prayers, litanies names, etc On this subject I must tell you a noble remark made by a native. Perhaps it has already been written; it does not matter. One day I heard a chief say either to Bishop Pompallier or to another chief, I have forgotten which, that in Maori communities women are much prized. The Protestant missionaries came with their wives; they therefore did not leave their prized possessions behind in order to preach to us Maoris but the Catholic missionaries are not married; they scorn what we take for treasures, so they have to love the Maoris and their doctrine must be an important matter. This is the nub of the remark that I wanted to copy down when I heard it. Pour opponents are certainly aware of our advantage and do everything they can to destroy it. It is seldom that a priest can talk or have a dialogue with a Maori Protestant that the latter does not put on the table right from the outset the question of celibacy. They are fully aware that God said crescite et multiplicamini (Increase and multiply!) and non est bonum esse hominem solum,(It is not good for a man to live alone) etc How did you come into the world ? is one of those phrases of prime importance which I heard reverberating everywhere I went just as this phrase there are three gods. Accordingly I think that it is quite permissible to guess where the training of these so-called apostles of heaven comes from. I use the term apostles of heaven because they do not wish to say who has given them their mission of earth. One day during a public address I asked one of them where their ancestors were (as he was saying a Protestant prayer). He told me they were in heaven. O wretched people to have fallen into such hands!
- Here is yet another scrap of information. One day I went to see a tribe. At that time there was an extraordinary movement among the natives concerning money which the Protestant bishop had just ordered that each Maori should give when he was attending a Communion service. This practice which has never been popular among the Maoris caused the Catholic Maoris to be very afraid that our bishop would do the same. Before being baptized they wanted to be really sure that later on (to use their expression) they would not be forced to buy the sacrament with shillings, sixpences, cabbages, onions, firewood (everything they said that were required by the others but not by me. Therefore they wanted a positive answer. I told them that Europeans had practices that Bishop Pompallier would not introduce among the Maoris because they were a poor people. And furthermore it was not our practice to give money for receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, etc. While I was extrapolating on this matter, two Protestant Maoris who were listening said to me that this practice was in the New Testament. I think he had been told about the money collected by Saint Paul but to make a long story short my good Maori had forgotten. I asked him to show me where it said in the bible to give money for receiving Holy Communion. So he brought me the text where it is said that the princes of the priests gave thirty pieces of silver to Judas to betray Our Lord. It gave rise to a little chuckle and a little lesson that I gave on the matter. Another probably more successful candidate brought me the text of Saint James Religio munda etc another teaching topic. I took advantage from it also to show them quite gently and kindly that they did not understand their scripture and that it was the same case for all their religion. That is how things are. Yet since that time there has been a large increase in the number of Catholics in this place and naturally we can think that providence wins their hearts and those of many others making little steps at a time.
- I am now going to speak to you, very reverend father, about a war which greatly involved the Maoris of the north for much of the last welve months. That war in which all the Maoris of the north including those from the Bay of Islands and from Hokianga, took part, first of all broke out between two Protestant tribes for land which both of them laid claim to and the real source (I can speak of the opinion publicly held by the Europeans) was the purchase made by the now deceased Governor Hobson through the help of a former Protestant missionary. As the Maoris were all related in the course of this war there were Catholics and Protestants mixed up on either side. As each claimed to be right and that it was not easy to decide effectively Bishop Pompallier decided that the Catholic natives should be allowed to fight and consequently it was necessary to help them with his sacred ministry. The place of the battle took place at Oruru (Doubtless Bay).
- In the first days of March people came looking for a sick man about eight leagues away. This action was very edifying for natives to come so far looking for a sick person in good health but you need to know that converted Maoris do not normally consider the inconvenience but they say, “ It is the use of prayer”, an attitude which much confuse a lot of people. If you tell them there is a meeting on such and such a day that word is enough. They leave their homes, their work, even when they are not well, it is nothing to them; they were told they had to meet and that was enough. I have seen them travelling two leagues to attend church services in weather that was so bad that I scarcely dared putting my own foot out the door, I am letting different thoughts carry me away. So after walking all night and after crossing several rivers Father Chouvet and I arrived in the morning to find the sick man quite well. However the tribe looked favourably on our arrival. It is an unspeakable joy for a priest to appear in a good tribe. No adult was baptized; they decided that they would go to the Bay of Islands in large numbers to be baptized. While I was there, a dispatch-rider arrived on a pony bringing news that a battle was being fought at Oruru. I sent Father Chouvet back to the Bay of Islands and I decided to follow those of the tribe who were leaving for war and including some of those who were saying Catholic prayers. There were 29 or 30 of us. We spent Sunday morning at the Whangaroa farm which Fr Rozet had left withdrawing to the Bay of Islands. After midday we resumed our travels and we observed vespers in the open air. Towards evening after roasting potatoes and fording the two rivers of Mongonui we said our evening prayers and continued walking. We arrived near the pa walking without making any noise so as not to be noticed. Having come close enough to hear the talking we sat down among the ferns and eave-dropped. Everything centred on war which was to start the following day if the tribe had to go and trample down the land in dispute (these were their words) and haul out the grass, which symbolized ownership. Despite the cold and a heavy dew, despite sweating on the journey, fern was our bed. The comet which shone in all its glory and which I had seen on March 2 for the first time after sunset was the subject of discussion. The most commonly held feeling was that it was a sign of war. Later on I heard other views verbi gratia, that it was Christ who, seeing two churches, was coming to say which was the good one. An old priestess who was travelling with us and who had converted to Catholicism considered moreover that she felt inspired. Her voice changed; she began having convulsions and harangued the others. She stressed the importance of constant prayer and then similar to a Pythonisse (I have forgotten how to spell that word) she made some chiefs who had died more or less long ago speak on matters touching war. She was forcefully contradicted by several of the Catholics present but she became only more animated and stopped only very late in the night. She was listened to with a religious respect by those of the natives who still followed their former practices. As for me, I did not think it fitting to restrain her too much for the moment especially seeing that others were doing it for me and that all those who were praying knew what to be satisfied with. I encouraged them to be baptized, but I got nowhere; Fr Rozet was more successful than I some time later on.
- The following day we made a grand entry into the pa; those of the pas came out to meet us and challenged us putting on a warlike display, then they leapt around, etc. Throughout the morning everybody went out of the pa to go and take a ritual possession of the land in dispute, but the enemy did not show up. There were about 160 to 180 warriors in the pa and they were all well armed. During the night they captured three enemy spies but released them without doing them any harm. The following day the enemy appeared. They were advancing to meet an allied tribe which was coming to their aid. Those of the pa sallied out to meet them, all angry. I surrendered to the enemy all of whom were Protestant. The chief ordered that I should suffer no harm but that was all. He did not want to listen to talk about peace. The two armies came together; they made great show of strength; there were many war dances but neither side wanted to take the initiative so as not to be blamed by the other tribes; that was all. They went their separate ways just as they had come together and the tribe for whom they had assembled paddled along the river into enemy territory exchanging here and there gifts of friendship. This is a feature which will not be the only amazing one which you will find in the course of this war. After a few days as there was no sign of an attack, I returned to the Bay of Islands to inform the Bishop of what had happened.
- Very reverend father, I had begun this letter while sailing to Sydney; the departure of Mr Tripe prevents my continuing it. I think I will do it later and send you the next part. I have been well and truly delighted here at Sydney by the enthusiasm as well as the other good graces of Archbishop Polding and his clergy as well as the good living of the Catholics of this large city and the flourishing state of the Catholic faith. The setting up of orphanages is on a good footing; these poor children have gained plenty despite the loss of their parents. They read, write, do embroidery work, sing very well and are good living children. The eight bells, the biggest of which passes 3000, reminded me of the city of Lyons. Since 1838 I have not witnessed so much manifest display of our religion. May God bless its work! In all probability I am going to buy a bell of 400 to 500 for the chapel which has just been built at Kororareka. I hope it will make some impression on the natives; I have been around and found it; I have been told that I can have it cheap, but I have not yet been able to ascertain the exact price. That’s all that I can tell you at the moment and I straightaway commend myself to your prayers and to those of all the Marist Society. Accept, very reverend and dear father, my feelings of the deepest respect and the most sincere gratitude of those I have the honour of living with, in the union of the divine hearts of Jesus and Mary, your most humble and very obedient servant,
- Apostolic priest