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4 April 1848 − Extract from a letter from Father Xavier Montrouzier to the abbot Gaffino, priest at Montignac, Woodlark

Based on the document sent APM OMM 208.

Translated by Mary Williamson, July 2014

Sheet of paper forming four pages, two of which are written on, the third blank and the fourth having only Poupinel’s annotation.

[p.4] [ in Poupinel’s handwriting ]
Woodlark, 4th April 1848 • Father Montrouzier to Mr Gaffino, priest at Montignac (Hérault).

Our situation on San Cristobal was no longer tenable as the elements and the men combined to destroy us. Every day we were seeing our strength weakening with no benefit for the souls we were caring for and with our double curacy, islands without number seemed to reach their arms out to us. We made the decision, regretfully, to leave the Solomons and go to Woodlark, about which we had heard good reports. There as well, we suffered some misfortunes: in the first days the fever threatened to overwhelm us and still, today, it leaves us unable to do heavy work. But it must be admitted that there, at least everything has not been really difficult. Although we have not yet done anything much except study the language, that is to say show the natives things that we would like to know the names of and try to express, by gestures, the things that are not perfectly obvious, but we have already carried our several baptisms. Some children have even already benefitted from our arrival: they are already in heaven, praising God for all eternity and from there , no doubt, they will pray for their unfortunate countrymen. We have also had the good fortune to revive some adults who were in danger of dying and I have hopes that the sacrament will have awakened in them suitable sentiments.
On this subject, I must tell you about a minor event which will show you how much it pleases the good Lord to soothe the bitterness in his flock. One day, as I was going to visit some villages with my colleagues, I was told about a sick person who they said was dying. I hastened to the hut, where I found a poor young man, unable to speak, but still fully conscience. I instructed him as best I could, had him make an act of contrition and of love of God and my colleague baptised him. That in itself was a godsend, but that was not all. The young man died and a few days later I returned to his village. I was expecting some reproaches from his parents, as our good savages are still quite ignorant, even though we try to disabuse them and they attribute to the baptismal water either the cure or the death of sick people. It was not like that at all, and they contented themselves with asking me, in an animated fashion: Where is our son? I replied that I thought that he was in heaven with Jehovah. And, they added, is he not in the home of the devil, where there is fire as wide as the ocean? − I don’t think so. − Oh well then, all the better that he is dead; he is fine, he is with Jehovah. These sentiments delighted me, especially as I had only rarely taught the catechism to these worthy folk. I even suppose, I must tell you, that they were the fruit of the prayers for their son, in whose salvation I then had even more confidence.

You will perhaps be reassured to know our method of teaching the catechism. We visit the villages on fixed days. Then when we have arrived, we gather everyone together and we sing the Ave Maria in Latin; we have not yet translated it into the native language. Then we instruct them in a conversational manner.
In general we do not sense any resistance from the natives, in the sense that they sincerely believe everything we tell them. But their flippancy and the coarseness of their ideas work against those ideas that might be able to impress them and see them interrupting the catechist to ask him: What is your mother’s name? What happened to you in France that made you leave? Is there taro in France? etc. Other times they will say: Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, who is also the son of Jehovah and you say that Mary is not the wife of Jehovah? It is a joke that you talk like this. One day a native came to say in my ear; I would really like to see Jehovah, ask him to come here. Others ask us if, in heaven, a lot of yams and pork are eaten and if there is a lot of iron. We have to tell them that in heaven there is no shortage of anything, otherwise we would not be understood.
You see, my dear friend, that we are having to deal with big adult children. Unfortunately they have neither the simplicity nor the innocence of children. Besides, you would not be able to imagine the pleasure there is in speaking thus about God to people who are so far from his kingdom. One prepares them thus to enter there and one feels an indescribable joy in having them make the sign of the cross and having them give voice to an act of love of God. In general, our savages are intelligent, the children have very good memories and in the evening, during their long gatherings, they talk about what the missionary has said.
I do not know if I am imagining it, but I conceive of the most peaceful hopes for our mission. The trials that it has suffered make me very hopeful for it. Also, though perverted, as slaves of satan must be, our people are less so than many others. They do not seem to like war, which is what caused us despair at San Cristobal and in New Caledonia and although there are plenty of food supplies, they need to work hard enough to not be the victims of all the evils of laziness. Above all there are crowds of children and it is on them that we should count most. We intend to train some catechists; Rome’s intention is even that we train some native priests who could then create churches. Where could one better realise these plans than here where there is an abundance of youth?
Woodlark, 4th April 1848.

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