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13 August 1846 — Fr Xavier Montrouzier to his parents, New Caledonia

Translated by Peter McConnell, September 2010

Jesus Mary Joseph – All through Mary!

New Caledonia, port Balade the 13th August 1846

My dear parents,
In my last letter I gave you the reason for my being in New Caledonia; but when writing the letter I was very short of time and unable to go into details. Today I am going back on past events and to inform you what happened to me since I left San Cristobal. It was not without apprehension that three weeks after leaving Port St Mary, I reached the coast of New Caledonia. I was frightened that the news relating to the death of Bishop Epalle would not be able to be contained, that they might have a bad effect in New Caledonia, inspiring the natives to make fatal designs on the missionaries. God, who looks over those who serve him, takes on the task of arranging everything, and instead of being roused to follow the example, the natives do not stop cursing the behaviour of the natives of Isabel. The day after my arrival, I went with Bishop Douarre to Pouébo to see a property where a settlement is to be founded, from now on deemed indispensable for the 400 natives who make up the tribe. Some days later the bishop left for Sydney.
-- In his absence Reverend Father Rougeyron and I were busy in the garden in which we have planted yams, taros, bananas, and sugar cane, without counting the cabbages, beans, and lettuces, which we have cultivated. I have started exercising my religious life independent of this work, which in France we would have done as a type of recreation, but here we see it as being worthy of all our efforts because of the usefulness that we derive from it. On the former topic, I will tell you, my dear parents, that the first time I went to give instructions, being still quite a novice in the language, I had to take an exercise book in which there are prayers adopted by the missionaries. But as the natives scarcely have any idea of the effect of writing, they do not even suspect the service that my book gives me, so that they all cry out that I was a very surprising man because having been among them only a few days since my arrival, I was speaking in such a way that they could understand me. There’s an example of the naivety of the natives.
You will be interested to learn, my dear parents, the way in which the holy ministry is conducted here. Here it is briefly: Four times a week one of us missionaries leaves us after paying a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, asking for the protection of the Holy Virgin and the guardian angel, and carrying his missionary cross and his gourd for baptizing. He goes more or less a fair way without going more than three leagues normally, stopping at each village and even at each hut which he comes across; he begins by bringing the natives together, then he makes with them the sign of the cross, recites with them prayers which includes the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Credo, the acts of Faith, Hope and Charity, of Contrition and a prayer to the guardian angel. He questions them on catechism, instructs them on some new part of dogma, has them sing a hymn and asks whether there are any new babies whom he baptizes and whether there are any sick people whom he prepares for death. You would be surprised moreover at the charm which these apostolic tasks have. It is true that we get tired in narrow tracks that are sometimes stony and sometimes muddy; we are often full of indifference in which so many of the natives languish in, but we see little children, that our divine master cherished so tenderly, snatched from slavery to Satan, and drawn to the love of God, and several do not dally before going to heaven. We hear the youth praising Jesus and Mary and crying out when we speak to them of the goodness of God. Yes, truly Jehovah is good, he had made the sun warm us, and give us light, the earth to give us yams and taro, the sea to provide us with shellfish and fish. We bring to the sacrament old people, reborn as it were, whose lives were spent in suffering, giving way to a period of happiness and then you feel really good in yourself. We are happy to have been given the task of bringing them the Good News. Then, quite often, we find attitudes which make us feel moved. It is like that when called to a sick bed I have seen in the person such a fervent desire for baptism that tears came to my eyes. Not finding him knowledgeable enough, I waited until he was at death’s door before anointing him. But he did not understand why I was delaying, and did not stop repeating: So you want to let me go to hell. I let myself be moved and gave in to his demands. He did not die immediately. I had time to see him several times. While I was telling him on one occasion that he should take care of not losing the grace of baptism and should not sin any more, he replied, to sin and so you are forgetful of the fact that you baptized me. No, that is finished with; I will not commit any evil. Since then that good native died and I hope God will receive him in paradise. My dear parents, if that is how it goes, don’t doubt that he is praying for you because your example and your lessons have taught me to do something down here for God and for the future.
Bishop Douarre returned from Sydney after an absence of two months and his return has been marked by a favour of the Holy Virgin. He had taken with him young Fifi, whom I spoke to you about in a previous letter. On leaving port, he was assailed by a shocking tempest. The waves were strong and the ship was overloaded. They jettisoned the heaviest merchandise; it was of no concern because the ship was on the verge on capsizing. The bishop then offered his life to God, but at that moment, while thinking of his dear Fifi, he begged the Star of the Sea asking her for time to baptize that child who was still a pagan. The weather improved immediately; the native was anointed and slowly the tempest dissipated entirely. The grace of our loving mother is besides not the only story which I am able to relate to you. Me too, I have had to make known the goodness of this celestial queen. Here is the proof. When leaving San Cristobal the captain of our schooner took, for various reasons, two natives whom he had agreed to take back to their tribes. You understand that it was very important for us to carry out that promise for if the inhabitants of San Cristobal had not seen their fellow natives come back, they would said that the Whites had killed and eaten them. That would hardly have made them trust us any further. Because the captain of the schooner was not returning, the bishop had to look after the two natives to see that they returned to their island. However when about to depart, those natives escaped, rushed off into the bush, stayed there several days without eating anything and returned only after being hungry and cold and consequently falling ill. One of them arrived exhausted in New Caledonia and his condition appeared desperate in my view. He seemed to have caught a chest infection. It seemed necessary to bleed him and despite my little surgical ability I decided to attempt it. But it was not necessary even to think of it because if the patient succumbed, they would have claimed we had cut his throat. In this predicament, I thought the best thing to do was to pray to God. I called on Mary to let the native live. He was still not ready for baptism and I promised Our Lady to say several rosaries and to celebrate several Masses in honour of her Sacred Heart. Then I left the poor native alone to do what he thought he should do, eat and even wash. The good Virgin did not leave me in anxiety for long. Five days after my prayer and after putting a miraculous medal around the neck of the native, she restored his health and today he was returned to San Cristobal.
My dear parents, may these facts I have just related to you and whose authenticity I can swear to, strengthen your love and trust in the mother of God! She has graces for all men and remedies for all evil and the more you ask her the more you are convinced of what St Bernard said: that one has never asked her for something in vain.
Bishop Douarre had hardly arrived from Sydney when he conducted a ceremony which left in my heart extremely deep impressions which I am not going to tell you about. For the first time he distributed the bread of life to a New Caledonian. Right from the night before we had adorned our humble oratory in the best way we could; we garnished the altar with flowers, spread out clean matting, and increased the lighting. The day itself about eight o’clock, Fifi dressed as a European had knelt down in front of the chapel door. The bishop in his mitre and bearing his crozier walked towards him to begin the ceremony of baptism and ask her what her name was. Fifi replied: Louis is my name, a name that suited him marvellously because that day the church was celebrating the feast of St Louis de Gonzaga---What do you want? added the bishop. Faith, replied Louis. When the ceremony was over, Mass started and we, happy witnesses of that ceremony, intoned some of the sacred hymns, memories of a first communion, which always make an indescribable delight in one’s heart--- It is impossible to tell you the meditation and the humility shown by Louis; he seemed angelic. You could see that he was full of the great deed he was about to perform. The moment of communion came. He appeared to double his fervour at that stage and I was unable to hold back my tears seeing a native up until recently still nasty and untrained becoming nourished by the spotless Lamb and drinking blood from which virgins are bred.
Since his baptism Louis is no longer the same. When we spoke to him of confession, he seemed quite shocked. Does one still offend God after baptism? he asked. These were admirable sentiments and made us blush, we who after so many oaths to God continue to fall back into the same faults. Then while expressing to Reverend Father Rougeyron all the gratitude he felt for him, he spoke to him with a wonderful faith. My father and my mother gave me this body which will one day be given up to worms to eat and I love them and you have given me what I feel in my heart so why wouldn’t I love you! He has in particular a lot of devotion to the Holy Virgin. One day we were travelling into the countryside with him. As we left, the priest said to him: Have you got your rosary beads? And you, have you got your breviary?
The very day of Louis’ solemn baptism the bishop and I left for the interior of the island. We had a very interesting trip. It is true that it was not without exhaustion.; besides we covered at least ten leagues a day in rough and steep pathways; we had to suffer hunger as a result of our guides stealing some of our provisions. But in contrast we noticed the existence of a large population. We baptized about thirty children and finally we recognized that the country had resources for its inhabitants because we found a copper mine, traces of iron and charcoal and a mineral spring. Being keen on biology I was delighted to see new flowers, birds of various colours and a lovely grotto where I was certainly the first to chant a hymn to Mary. We returned at the end of the week.
Ten days later, we had the misfortune to see the corvette La Seine break up on the coral reef and at the same time the consolation of being able to gather up all the crew and having enough provisions to feed them. We still have with us those poor shipwrecked men, but we think the French consul in Sydney whom we were able to advise of the bad news, will not be long in sending a ship to pick them up and take them back to the fatherland. Providence has behaved wonderfully! The gift of the Propagation of the Faith, for the most part collected in France, has been on this occasion, thanks be to God, the first and only resource of a French crew wrecked on a coast up until now inhospitable and even today inhabited by cannibals.
My dear parents, what shall I tell you about the situation of our New Caledonian people? Alas, they are still very much to be pitied. Their wretchedness is extreme. In order to survive, they have to look for bad roots in the mountains and quite leathery shellfish on the beach. They are constantly on the alert because of their enemies who leave them neither rest nor truce and who ravage their property and even kill them and eat them. With that being the case, how can we achieve much success among them? Let’s pray ---
I should inform you of how I am. I am happy basically, because I am sure that I am where God wants me to be and every day I appreciate more and more the grace that God has given me in calling me to consecrate my life to the physical and moral wellbeing of so many souls.
Pray to the good God for me, my dear parents, because the work I am undertaking is enormous.
I embrace you from the bottom of my heart and beg you to believe that I am your good son and brother,
Xavier Montrouzier
Apostolic missionary.