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20 September 1853 - Father Benoît Forestier to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Balade, New Caledonia

Translated by Peter McConnell, May 2011

Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Forestier

[p. 1]

To very reverend Fr Colin, Superior General

Balade, 20 September 1853

Very Reverend Father,
God in his goodness continues to put our mission station to the test. Our bishop, two fellow priests and the worthy Brother Michel Anliard have been called back to him in less than a year. But may His will be done completely; we are prepared for losses. Our only fear is that the work, which we are given the responsibility for, will suffer. The bishop’s death brought him a sudden blow just as it was for a certain number of Christians; we often had them whispering to us: the bishop is dead; your words will no longer be of any good. More often still when we go and visit the sick, we have been received with threats and surprise and accused of bringing death with us. It is a strong proof of the protection of God and of the influence we have acquired by restricting ourselves to whisperings; we had to expect blows from spears and clubs because our poor natives were generally convinced that we made them die. We had to go and fetch the patients whom they hid in the most obscure huts. Yet we never heard any real threats; they tried to deceive us; they never resisted us when we wanted to instruct and baptize the moribund. Now that the epidemic has gone away and now that everybody is reassured, the mission station is still stable and making progress.
We received a very useful help in the person of Faher Montrouzier, the present superior of the mission station at Balade. He wanted to take on the responsibility of ministering himself the three chapels which are independent of the main settlement and two of them are four hours away and reached by frightful paths. Every month he will go and spend some days in each chapel, hear confessions, celebrate Mass, teach catechism, advise and give encouragement to the resident catechists. Already about fifteen youths in each settlement respond to his care and live as Christians, if I dare use that word. Afterwards they will be solemnly admitted to the number of converts.
Pouébo is far and away better, The population, which is greater and less spread out, is led by the second chief, the first being only a child. That chief, Ipolité, surprises us all by his impartiality, his ability and his energy. Also the majority of the tribe will soon be Christian. A new settlement is to be founded at Tuho about 20 leagues away from Balade. The chief and his brothers have promised to become converts. One of them, a young man of 18 to 20, formerly known for his restlessness, has lived for the past six months with us and is preparing to act as a catechist. 25 people of the same tribe are taking instructions; unfortunately their language is very different from that of Balade. It will not be possible to prepare them straightaway for baptism before we are able to make ourselves understood with the help of an interpreter. Father Rougeyron really wanted to pick me to begin the settlement if Father Thomassin comes to join us. But it is not only a settlement that he would have to found. The one at Tuho will soon need two more priests in the powerful tribes often at war with the tribe where we are going to set ourselves up. Touched by the prayers of an old chief of the interior, Bishop Douarre also promised him some missionaries. I will remember for a long time that worthy old man shaking the bishop’s hand and saying to him in a sigh: Hurry, I am going to die; I want to see them before my death. Moreover the time has come to act, very Reverend Father.
The changes that have occurred at Poébo and at Balade are talked about everywhere and exaggerated and so all the tribes open their doors to us. Even those tribes where we are established think that new settlements are essential for the success of Catholicism in their own tribes too. It is a case of one following the other that we will convert them. Our most determined opponents don’t dare say: we don’t want to be Christians; they repeat in all their meetings let’s wait a while, let’s see what our neighbours say! If we are kept for a long time to our small contingent, we will languish. The impetus stamped mainly on what happened at Poébo will stop and we will indefinitely hold back a work whose success seems today to be already assured.
When I speak of success I don’t mean that in a few years time we will be able to rest and enjoy the fruits of our labours; our work and our worries will increase with the number of our Christians; we will still have to keep an eye on them, to instruct them, to reprove them, to encourage them without which the fervour of baptism will soon be lost and that with more care than in a Christian and civilized country because our natives are weak and susceptible to excesses. They will retain for a long time a certain belief in their superstitions even as they keep away from them; they will retain their customs which expose them to failings. The missionary will need a vigilance and a continuous and very wearing patience. That is where Father Rougeyron excels, and it is my belief that that is what disheartens several missionaries who expect to find in the converts perfect Christians and they are scandalised by finding them full of weakness and failings despite their good will. That is at least the only explanation which I can find in the rumours which people like to spread and which come back to us in several letters that the mission stations exhaust the Society of Mary uselessly, that the source of help has dried up, that soon we will have to leave our mission stations or the Society of Mary, and other rumours which I don’t dare repeat in this letter. I don’t know, very Reverend Father, what is happening elsewhere nor those whom the mission station may have embittered, but I believe I can say that not one of us here is discouraged, that we dedicate ourselves more each day to our mission station, that it is progressing and is progressing more rapidly still when reinforcements arrive and despite the semi official tone of those who say that you will never see any of us, I cannot doubt that they are deceiving us and that you will not close the mission station at the very time it is starting.
I am, very Reverend Father, with a great filial affection, your submissive and respectful child,
Benoît Forestier
Priest of the Society of Mary