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13 August 1847 – Father Pierre Rougeyron to Father Jean-Claude Colin, New Caledonia

Translated by Mary Williamson, March 2011.

Based on the script, APM ONC 208 Rougeyron.

Three sheafs of paper comprising twelve pages, nine of which are written on, Poupinel’s annotation on the twelfth page.

[p12] [in Poupinel’s handwriting]
New Caledonia / 13th August 1847 / Father Rougeryon.

Letter from Father Rougeyron to the very Reverend Father Colin, Superior of the Society of Mary.

Aboard the Brillante, 13th August 1847.

My very Reverend Father,
In the report that we are sending you, we have recounted the painful events that have just taken place in New Caledonia. I hasten to assure you that although our cross weighs heavily, it is nevertheless not without consolation. Our small band of Christians, only nine in number, along with several novices, have given us touching and admirable proof of their conversion. Oh, how the blessing of baptism functions in marvellous ways, given a receptive soul! Wolves have changed into lambs. Here are some of the attributes of our Christians and novices that will not fail to impress you and comfort your heart, which is no doubt weighed down by the preceding details.
Augustin, a young Christian was of the greatest help to us when we were under siege. He kept watch all day to check on what was happening. He warned me of the plans of the savages and of the dangers we were facing. One day, when the danger seemed to him greater than usual, he snatched an item of exchange from my hands to go and take it, himself, to the savages. When I asked him the reason for his behaviour, he replied that he did not want to see me killed like Brother Blaize. As for me, he added, they will not kill me; anyway, if they killed me it would not be such a grave fault. These words from a young child brought tears to my eyes, but tears of happiness. I found myself well recompensed for the trouble I had taken with his instruction.
Another day, seeing me feeling sad, he came to me. Father he said, I can see perfectly well that you are going to abandon me. No, not at all, I replied, you are a very good person, I love you. Well then, said the child, if you love me, why not write me a letter, in case you are all killed. I will present my letter to a ship’s captain and he will take me somewhere where I can make my confession. But then another big problem presented itself to him; where can I go to make my confession? Who will be able to understand me? Oh, how happy I would be to die with you! Every day I hear of the death of someone who would have wished to stay alive and me, I would so much like to die and go straight to Heaven, yet I cannot see the moment of my end drawing near. Copious tears rolled down the cheeks of this poor child as he spoke to me. I consoled him, telling him that we must leave our fate in the hands of God, who is a kindly father. Augustin was perhaps the wildest child in his tribe. One had only to look into his eyes to see this. Nowadays, his gaze, formerly so wild has become gentle and calm and there is always a smile on his face. It is less than a year since his baptism has wrought this change.
One of our catechists from Pouébo, Gregoire, came during these disastrous days and moved in with us so as to be more easily of service. As we were unable to leave the house he ran our errands for us and he managed an even more admirable achievement, he won the chief of his village over to our side. While everyone was plotting to get rid of us, this chief and Gregoire came and brought us some fish from their catch. The very best fish were always saved for us.
The catechist who has shown the most courage is Michel. He fought against his own people to protect us. But not being the strongest he was beaten; his huts were burnt down and his crops destroyed. Despite the hostility shown towards us, this good Christian found a way to come aboard the ship where we had sought refuge. Since our departure from Balade I have not seen him again; at the time that I did see him he began to sob bitterly. No matter what I said to try and console him, he could not respond to me, being quite overcome by the emotion and pain that our departure was causing him. When he had gathered himself together a little he asked me to hear his confession one last time. His confession made, he begged me to stay in his village, but the situation had become impossible. It was essential that he resign himself to seeing us leave. He promised to continue the mission and to have some churches built. I enlisted him to baptise, as he had done before, those who were in danger of dying. I hope that the members of his tribe, feeling themselves punished by our absence, will improve their attitude and that, when we return, we will find quite a number of them well disposed towards baptism. Is not everything possible through God? Who can understand the functioning of his providence? My Reverend Father, was this event not necessary for the conversion of the New Caledonians?
Antoine, another young Christian, was very close to Br Blaize when he was struck down by blows from clubs. He reported to us that his head was cut off then he was stripped of his habit and his body was subjected to barbarous treatment. He added that the inner chapel was ransacked, the vestments desecrated, the sacred vessels thrown into the rubbish and all the religious objects trampled underfoot. While everyone was hurrying to pillage the house, our young Christian ran to look for the iron die used for making hosts. His only thought, as he later said, was for the Holy Sacrifice of the mass. He knew that the die was the only one we had in New Caledonia and that was what motivated him to save this object. As well, he retrieved a chalice and a small sum of money. These actions surprised me, especially as this child is not one of the most intelligent or daring, but religion can very quickly change a soul.
What can I tell you, my Reverend Father, about our little Christian Marie? The religious sensibilities that she showed in these circumstances are worthy of the greatest praise. While the savages were hatching their evil plans she took note of everything and came to inform Fr Grange of what was going on. When Brother Blaize was wounded, she stayed with Antoine at the side of the dying man and when he had given up his soul she did not leave him but shed bitter tears then recited her rosary and prayed for the repose of his soul. With particular inspiration she cut a piece of fabric from the Brother’s trousers. The relic was well chosen, as it was exactly the piece where a spear had pierced him. It was reddened with his blood. She hurried to take it to the grave of our first Christian, where she hid this precious item. Several days later she gave it to Louis, a catechist, who passed it on to me. What is so amazing is that I had never spoken about relics to this child. I have no idea what could have given her this religious inspiration. In vain the men and women heaped her with ridicule. In vain they used threats and promises, she did not want to have anything to do with the pillaging. She only left the body of the Brother to go and find a blouse that she wore on Sundays when she came to mass. Nothing else was able to tempt her away.
When night had fallen she took advantage of this time to bless the good Brother with the last rites. Alone, using only a small piece of wood, this twelve-year-old child managed to dig a pit where, with her frail hands she buried the mutilated remains of the deceased. More than once, she has gone to weep and pray beside this grave. I did not manage to see this poor child again before I left, but I commended her to Michel. He promised me that he would shelter her in his home with the three other Catholics of the some age. There, he said to me, we will pray together.
It is not only the Christians who have been a consolation to us during our time of trial. It is also the novices. Nangaro, a nine-year-old child, brother of the high chief of Pouébo, has been staying with us for three months; he is blessed with a lively intelligence and pleasant disposition. I have done my best to train him. He has responded to my efforts. Recently, talking with Louis, he said to him; if the missionaries are killed and I am spared I would not want to survive them; I know exactly what I would do: I would go and hide behind the door, then I would suddenly open it and before I could be recognised, a hail of spears would strike me and pierce my body; that is what I hope for, to die with them. Do these sentiments not show a nobility of soul? He and his brother Koïne, who is eight years old, came on the day of our departure, to warn me in secret that their brother Bonou, high chief of the Pouébo, was intending to betray us. This was quite true. We would have all been lost without these two guardian angels. To mislead their parents, who wanted to restrain them, they pretended to go up into the mountains and then came back down via ravines and mangrove swamps to the shore where they met up with our ship’s boats. At the sight of these poor little mites, covered with mud and soaking wet, I could not hide my feelings.
Three other Christians, Victor, Raphaël and Magdelaine gave us as much help as they were able.
I am taking back to Sydney five children; Louis, Augustin, Raphaël, Nangaro and Koïne. Five others remain on the island. They are Michel, Grégoire, Antoine, Victor and Magdelaine.
More than six hundred natives know their prayers and have received adequate religious instruction, but they are not yet prepared to be baptised.
I have not yet told you about Alexis, head chief of a populous village at Pouébo. He died a month ago, the death of the just. Each evening, when a little bell that I had given him was rung, he gathered together his people, his wife and his children. He recited with them prayers and the rosary, then gave them a short period of instruction. For some time everyone had noticed the growth in grace of this good soul. His faith and piety shone all around him. Oh! He was a source of joy to me in New Caledonia. The Good Lord wanted a sacrifice from me; he took him from this world. I hope that he will be one of the jewels in my crown in Heaven. I miss him, as his death was a great loss to the mission, as was that of the pious Elizabeth, in 1846. She was a woman who was admirable in her faith and her zeal, which made of her an apostle amongst her tribe. But God’s work presents contradictions and it is at a time when all seems lost that success is at its nearest. God wishes to show that conversion comes from him alone and not from men.
Our Christians have shown themselves so worthy of the name, so faithful at us even in times of misfortune, that I would have wished to die amongst them. It is true that we leave New Caledonia, scene of our successes and our sufferings; but we do not leave her forever. Soon, I hope, the time will come when I will be able to return to this sorry land where we have sown the seeds of Christianity. Alas, these poor savages do not understand what they are doing; they deserve our compassion. The more they persecute us, the more we love them in Jesus Christ, who died for them as well as for us. We continue to pray for their conversion and we would happily give a thousand lives, if we had them, for their salvation and their happiness.
Please pray and have pray for us all those who support the propagation of the faith. Pray for our poor New Caledonians and for us, as we fear that other men, less patient than the missionaries, might come and exterminate them before our return,
Your faithful servant,
Missionary apostolic of the Society of Mary.

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