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20 July 1848 — Father Jean-Baptiste Bréhéret to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Fiji

Translated by Mary Williamson, October 2017

Based on the document sent, APM, OF 208 (Fiji) Bréhéret.

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

[p.4] [Address]
To the Very Reverend Father Colin, superior general / of the Society of Mary, Lyon / Saint Barthélemy Rise no. 4.

[ in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Lakemba, Fijian archipelago, 20th July 1848 / Father Bréhéret to the Reverend Father the Superior General.


Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Islands of Fiji. Lakemba 20th July 1848.

My Very Reverend Father,
I am writing to you in haste amidst the chaos of a visit, to inform you of my current situation. I have not written to you for two years for the reason that I have not been able to. My health is holding up though my strength is much reduced. The Good Lord, who wishes to purify us and make us true Marists, has burdened us with tribulations. I am not referring to our manual work, to which I have had to apply myself almost continually; that is only painful for me because it prevents me from concentrating on my ecclesiastical work. The lack of action we have been caught up in, in relation to the ministry has been a greater and more alarming trial. We can reasonably willingly put up with the scorn and the insults; but to remain inactive, unable to instruct anyone, it seems to me that that is not the vocation of a missionary. This situation, little by little demoralises and drains one’s courage; enthusiasm wanes and becomes weakened, not having its usual source of support. It is a trial that one has to have passed through to understand it; one needs to endlessly recharge oneself. The Devil is in his own territory here and you must understand, my Reverend Father, that he never rests now that we have come to attack him in his last outposts. I have passed comment to you about the character of the Reverend Father, my superior here. I believe before God that I have told you the truth. He has made great efforts to correct a fault in himself, one which does not prevent him from being a good missionary. From this point of view he is no longer the same. Since our arrival here, he has suffered greatly and with heroic courage.
I have quickly run through the letter from Father Grange, enclosed in the Annals. There is a small paragraph about the pride of the natives, which is true and says a lot about this in a few words. In the rest, he rather does as the bees do: he gathers his honey where he finds it. What he says is no doubt true as far as the way he presents it. I have also run through the letter from Father Calinon and, in agreement with my superior, who has also read it, I would say that it is true, to judge from the number of folk from Tonga that we have here, in large numbers and who, for the most part only come here to have the Fijians feed them, the Fijians being more industrious than them but, I think, even less hospitable.
Since Father Matthieu’s visit, almost three years ago, here is what our regime has been almost every day: soup made of yams but with salt and water; at midday yams cooked in the oven or boiled with a small piece of lard or something else, such as a small amount of rice, some vegetables, a little fish, with luck, but never two dishes. The small amount of fat that we have had we have kept for the Reverend Father who had greater need than us. Add to this the milk from a coconut to drink and you have our full diet. The few exceptions that have existed are not worth mentioning. With a good appetite and a strong stomach, one manages. That is it for me and for the Brother, as long as he survived. With a poor appetite and a weak stomach, one suffers greatly; that is how it is for the Reverend Father. This diet has always suited me and always seemed unbearable for the Reverend Father. It is almost like the life of a Trappist, without even the exception of my bed, which is at least as hard as theirs.
The Bishop, who is concerned and has always shown great interest in us, has established a new system to help us survive and maintain our health for the glory of God. But, I hope that the good Virgin will know even better to keep some crosses for us; They are the daily bread of Marists; at the moment I do not wish for anything more.
Here one must have a knowledge of all forms of work: Tailor, launderer, shoemaker, carpenter, cook, gardener, mason, but above all doctor.
We have lost Brother Annet Pérol who died a saintly death on 17th March 1848, after an illness of 34 days, during which he suffered greatly and with great resignation. I think that his crown in Heaven is very beautiful. He stated before dying that he wished the Society to ask of his parents the sum of 300 francs to have a mass said for the repose of his soul. We wept for him; apart from a few faults, which persisted, I think more from his education and his lifestyle before entering the Society, he was very virtuous and very pious.
Forgive me, my Very Reverend Father, for the muddle of this letter, which I am obliged to write in haste. I comfort myself with the thought that you will pray for us and for our mission in Fiji and that you will have others pray for us too; it is only in this way that we will be saved and we will save others. — The ingratitude here for the work we do is a great trial.
Despite everything, I am happy to be here and I would wish to be here if I was elsewhere, or even in another place that was worse; there are others which are worse not far from here, also in Fiji.
I end in commending myself to your prayers and to those of all the society and I am, with the deepest respect,
My Very Reverend Father,
your very unworthy and totally devoted son in Jesus, Mary, Joseph,
Jean-Baptiste Bréhéret,
Missionary Apostolic
[10] [in the margin on an angle]
The Bishop has granted us, until revocation, the privilege of the special altar for four days a week. You had given us one of 3 days; I do not think that these two privileges, added together should make 7 days.

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