Auguste Chouvet to M. Fourmon, priest, Opotiki, 6 April 1844
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August/September 2005 
APM Z 208 6 April 1844
To Father Fourman: New Zealand, Chouvet v.a., Opotiki 1844: 6 April
So here we are, both of us, hired to work in the vineyard of the Lord, you at one extremity, and I at the other. I do not know the name of the place where you are exercising the zeal which has consumed you since your childhood. All I know is that you have struggles to wage against [illegible word], and [have] to sustain them against it, and that you are no less an apostolic missionary in fact, even if you are not one in name, like the poor priest writing to you. What shall I say? No doubt you have savages, less amenable than mine. Although I am not very rich in experience, I can say in truth that there is a great distance between the passions of my savages and those which tyrannise so many of the old Christians of Europe. Here the people are childlike [Ici c’est un peuple enfant]. If they have childlike malice, they also have simplicity. I am particularly pleased to live among them, to listen to them, to instruct them. If I were allowed to complain, it would be only about the weakness of my sight, which prevents me from working, from undertaking journeys in the forests and mountains as much as someone else.
In spite of the attacks of heresy, God has blessed the (temps? time) which has been entrusted to me. Already I have harvested beyond my expectations. It is eight months since I arrived at Opotiki. Has not God wanted to display his mercy through my worthless hands? I have come to harvest what others have sown. Already I have given baptism to one hundred and fifty children and to several adults. On the too long awaited visit of Bishop Pompallier, I offered for his [examen? examination] a good number of adults, and eighty-two catechumens also received the sacrament of regeneration. The Bishop expects to extend his visit further [Mgr att(?) aller porter plus loin sa visite]; he has plans to stop again at Opotiki on his return, and then I hope the number of neophytes will multiply considerably. How striking it is, dear confrère, how consoling it is to hear the [illegible word] renunciation of Satan, his works, his [poupes? pomps?] by a multitude of adults. So I am already compensated for exhaustion and sweat, without counting the reward which God [illegible word] to [ceux? those] whom he employs. How satisfying it is as well to see the haste with which the catechists and the neophytes turn to the practice of prayer and preaching, to see germinating every day in people who not long ago were cannibals, the knowledge of salvation and the fear of God. Here I do not give instruction only on Sundays; I have to [illegible word] every day the bread of the word of God, and distribute it to staring children.
Every day of the week, morning and evening, catechism takes place after prayers, followed by an instruction and a hymn. Two or three times a week the Pangapanga takes place, a discussion on the Old or the New Testament, on the history of the Church, and even on controversy; their questions are so many that I need to be on my guard, and to go over again each time more [eight illegible words]. What [illegible word] me most, is the desire they express to me to learn something new every day. After the talks, there are young people and even old people who stay in the meeting place after all the others have left, and that in order to ask me something which the others do not know, and so to set themselves apart in the following pangapanga. Here youth [illegible word] old age, [3 illegible words] children, all [illegible word] the catechism. You curates [illegible word], you are more [illegible word] than we, you teach catechism only to children; that would be [2 illegible words].
[p2] I am not talking [about?] only [Je ne dis pas seulement] a person of quality, but a person [illegible word] from the country to go to the holy tribunal of penance. A little question savouring of the catechism. This person would answer you straight away that it is a long time since he made his first communion and that the catechism is only good for children. But I would really like to know if those good people would prevail over my poor neophytes and catechumens in knowledge of religion. Now if they were inferior, and very inferior to them, I do not understand why they would see as [three illegible words] instructed them in knowledge of salvation and [two illegible words] the catechism. Here a good number of natives know almost all the historical and miraculous facts of the Old and New Testaments; they could tell you a very great number of the sayings of Our Lord and his disciples or his enemies. They [délatent? – would inform] you just as well of the texts of the [illegible word] and of the prophets, but especially of St Paul. I am not exaggerating, several [illegible word] recite in an imperturbable way the genealogy of Our Lord back to David and from David back to Adam. You should not be surprised, because we here are at the Antipodes of those nations so proud of their civilisation and the [marche? development] of minds is as much opposite as that of bodies [et la marche? des esprits est aussi bien opposée que celle des corps]. [The reference to] the expression of controversy in respect of the savages has perhaps surprised you, but it is very just. My catechumens and neophytes are overwhelmed with objections from other natives steeped in the venom of heresy, which obliges me to give explanations on many articles [of the catechism/creed]. As soon as they hear some objection against the mother Church, they run to my house to ask me the answer to it, and they would be very ashamed if they could not thereupon answer their adversaries. These last have inherited the fury of Henry VIII and Elizabeth against the universal Church. Several of these so-called missionaries, like their masters, use every means to make my [flock] give up their worship, and not being able to succeed in that, they have no rest. I am going to quote some examples of the fine fruits of heresy.
The mitineri, that is to say the so-called missionaries, challenged the epikopo (those sharing in Catholic worship) to a meeting. Their plan was to convert them either willingly or by force. The meeting took place about 60 paces from my home, between the missionaries’ house for prayer and ours. The Epikopo asked me not to come to their discussion because only natives would be welcome. Two missionaries in turn attacked one of my catechists Hoane (John) Papaka. They began to declaim like orators, or rather like representatives of God against disciples of Satan. They read, while declaiming, long pages from their Bible; they commented on their reading like expert interpreters having [illegible word] of their apostle(s?) with the book the gift of infallibility to explain what it enclosed. They preached while gesticulating as much as they could [en gesticulant on ne peut plus], from time to time fixing their eyes on heaven like [illegible word] of the [illegible word], but the [courroucé? angry] and threatening look, [and] the [illegible word] shouts of the ranting, pointed rather to fanatics, children of Satan rather than envoys of God. Their faces were fiery coals, a neophyte told me on his return from the gathering. The representatives of God did not declare war on anyone who refused to listen to them or believe them, as did those blind men at the end of the meeting.
After having let them rant and rave for a long time, Hoane spoke up and told them that their reading and [leurs avis? their advice] were useless, that they were not the only ones who knew how to read and shout, and that the truth had to be found in other ways. Then he directed at them a long series of questions, mostly new to them: he got one and then the other into difficulties. [entre? + two illegible words] one of these knowledgeable interpreters of Scripture suggested to him that God was borne on the waters before creation, the other, still more profound, especially in knowledge of the New Testament, tried to find out from the four Gospels the amount of time that had passed from the creation of the world up to J[esus] C[hrist], and as he could not work it out, Hoane [p3] said to him ironically, “Look carefully. Soon you will find it.”
One of them declared very confidently that my worship was worth nothing because I did not have as big a pukapuka tapu [Holy Book – Bible] as their missionary. Confounded, they began to repeat their eternal objections to images, relics of the saints, Holy Mass, and other practices of worship. But more than anything else, it was words about the murderous Church with which they filled the air. Hoane had a good command of the responses to these objections made by the impious and heretics. He complete subdued his adversaries, leaving them only their anger. Driven into a corner and cast down by the shame of defeat, they trembled with rage, but soon the degree of their anger became too clear. It boiled over, and these two envoys from heaven, in the name of their faction, directed this threat to the Epikopo: “Since you intend to persist in your worship of wakapakoko [statues], we are going to declare war on you, to drive you into the wilderness with your foreigner.” Straight away a good old man, a catechumen, today a fervent neophyte, got up and replied very appropriately, “It would be very much better for you to massacre us than to drive us away. By dying for the sake of our worship we would go to heaven.” Then these words were heard being repeated by a crowd of epikopo: “You threatened us with war over our faith? There is a real sign of the shame of your faith. You call our church a murderous church. Are you therefore members of a peaceful church? Yes, no doubt, you are as peaceful as Henry VIII and Elizabeth your ancestors, your stem, your great leaders in worship.” That finished the meeting. The missionaries went back home, carrying away as well the shame of defeat, the ignominy of a threat of a most unjust war. Perhaps they would have carried out their threats if they had been the most numerous and strongest. The epikopo came back from the meeting to my house for evening prayers and to let me know what had happened. Already I knew quite a bit about it because Brother Justin and I had witnessed the scene, in part, from our dwelling. During the meeting a neophyte came from time to time to keep me informed about the debate between Hoane and the missionaries. But I had not yet learnt that the envoys of God had ended their embassy with the threat of war. On hearing this news, I did my best to make a response similar to that of the old catechumen. Priests were not familiar with war any more than the apostles, I told them, in a strong voice and with a determined look, without any mixture of fear, by the grace of God. If they came against me, my joy and my happiness would be to die for the faith that I had come to announce to them. It was then that I met the noble old man who had preceded me in that reply which must be stated in order to lead simple Christians to commit themselves to the faith.
After this story you will not be surprised at the following fact: those who rail against the truth, in [the persons] of the so-called native missionaries. Are the spirits of darkness animating them. On returning from a visit to a tribe which had given me a good welcome, I met along my way along the seashore some missionaries from that tribe who had been absent during my visit. Jealous and angry at the fact that I was going to carry Catholic teaching into their home area, they tried to intimidate me so I would not go back again. “Where are you coming from?” the asked me. “I am coming from your kainga, what do you think?” “Be careful not to come back and stir up trouble among us. Be satisfied with teaching and adoring wakapakoko [statues] at Opotiki.” “Since you are so proud, I will come back to your kainga very often. Anyway, you are the only people who speak to me like that. In fact, the whole of your tribe urged me to come back very often to visit it.” Seeing me so determined, the speaker was silent, and [three illegible words] to continue my [chemin? way] with my guide.
When I was 60 paces from him, he took his stick, and tracing a line on the seashore where we were, he called to me and said to me, “In future you will not go past this boundary.” Similar treatment was faced by other missionaries – by one of my catechists named Joseph, a young man capable of putting up a fight for knowledge against the white missionaries themselves. During my sea voyage, other native missionaries wanted to drive from the ship epikopo who wanted to use a different form of worship from theirs. Others refused me the use of their canoe to get across Tauranga harbour and to get to Father Pézant’s house. I had already spent four nights in the open. I was overwhelmed with exhaustion, and there were no other canoes for me to use. I tried to win over a missionary, by offering them a fine price for my passage. They did not want my price. “But should we not love one another?” I added.
[p4] They were deaf to all my words. Nothing softened their attitude. I had to spend another night on the shore, without shelter, and attacked by thousands and thousands of mosquitoes, until Father Pézant’s boat arrived. There is the fruit of heresy. By these signs anyone can recognise the children of God, the ones inspired by the Holy Spirit. I prefer to them the natives who remain devilish or Jewish (These are names given here to the natives who do not offer Christian worship). These devils are better [illegible word] and without comparison, more amenable. For example, not long ago I was very well heard by a native who had resolved to kill his wife for her adultery. He was keeping her captive. Other devils urged him to shoot her. Already she had got ready for death according to the customs of the native pagans. She had dressed herself in her best clothes, and had adorned her head with beautiful feathers so as to honourably send off her spirit into the empire of the dead. Her husband did not shoot her. He contented himself with keeping her imprisoned. After I had won over this native, I addressed some words to his wife to cover her in [confusion? confusion] in front of the gathering. “I have come to plead your cause,” I told her. “You have heard me do so. I have worked for love of you as my religion has taught me. But take note, nevertheless, that what you have done is like something done by a dog or a pig….
The letter ends here.
- I found Father Chouvet’s handwriting hard to read, a process not helped by his frequent abbreviations of words - translator’s note
- cf. Matthew 20:1-16 -translator’s note
- a game of guessing, according to Williams’ dictionary, so maybe a question and answer session - translator’s note
- the ecumenical statement of 1844! – translator’s note