1888 - Pompallier, J. Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania - CHAPTER VIII

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  1888 - Pompallier, J. Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania - CHAPTER VIII
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A Providential Occurrence--More Persecutions--Deliverance by the French Navy--Change of Residence--The Installation Ceremony--First Sermon in Maori--Last attempts of the Protestants to drive us from the Country--Circumstances favourable to the Catholic Religion--Advantages of Heresy--Mercantile Proceedings of Protestantism--Temporal Help prevented--Severe Disappointment of the Vicar-Apostolic.

AFTER a stay of two months, dating from our arrival in the country, a beneficial event happened which greatly impressed a number of people. A little child who had been very ill for some time, and who was at the point of death, was brought to me by his father, a native, to be baptized. This native had learned that when one died after baptism the soul went to dwell in the light near to the true God. He wished, therefore, the soul of his child to have that happiness. He presented him to me, holding him in his arms, saying that he did not ask for any remedy for the body of the child, whose face was already covered with the death-sweat, but he begged of me to baptize him. I hastened to comply with his request, showing every consideration in my power for the sentiments that inspired him. But his child did not die at all, and before two days had passed was in perfect health, without any remedy having been applied. Soon the reports that were made about this providential event among the natives reached our ears. Everywhere the people said that the God of the Catholic Bishop was a good God.

At the same time calumnies of every description against the Catholic Church and its ministers continued to be spread over the country by the ministers of heresy. Every week brought us rumours of pillage, death, exile, or incendiarism. But God helping us with His power, we remained calm and unshaken in the midst of the fright with which they sought to inspire us. Providence ordained at this juncture that a letter of protection which I had from the Minister of the French navy should be published in the New Holland newspapers, and come under the notice of the European Protestants of New Zealand.

While these things were happening, the corvette the Heroine came from France, and entered Sydney harbour, where she remained for some days. The commander, Captain Cecile, soon learned that I was being persecuted in New Zealand, and that I was expected to come to Sydney for an asylum. He hastened to set sail for the Bay of Islands, which is an excellent harbour in New Zealand, distant only twenty leagues from Hokianga, where I was residing. Before leaving Sydney M. Cecile wrote me a letter which he confided to safe hands to be given me immediately on my arrival at that port from New Zealand. In this letter the prudent and devoted commander advised me to lose no time in Sydney on my arrival, but to re-embark by the first boat bound for the Bay of Islands, where he would wait for me with his corvette, and he would take upon himself to see me landed and left in peace in New Zealand as a French subject and a Roman Catholic Bishop. He added that he was ready to employ his artillery and the weapons of his sailors to settle the question of liberty and justice which was being violated by the persecution of a prelate who was a French subject. Finally, that he had, in truth, no desire to impose a religion upon a country which did not wish for it, but he meant to make them understand the position of a French subject,

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and, if requisite, give them a lesson in civilization. Such was the substance of this noble commander's letter, as he himself explained it to me when I went to visit him at the Bay of Islands.

When he arrived in this port from Sydney he learnt that I was at Hokianga. He immediately wrote to me and sent his letter by express, inviting me to come and see him on board the Heroine, which he could not leave, in spite of the desire he had to come to me through the woods and rivers that separated us by two short days' journey.

On this invitation, then, I went to the Bay of Islands, where he had been waiting for me more than a week. I arrived at Kororareka, and stopped at a sort of inn, kept by a white man for the accommodation of travellers, and inhabited by savages. There I rested after my journey, took off my travel-stained clothes, and dressed myself to pay a visit to the commander, whose corvette lay at anchor near the shore. But first, I wrote to him announcing my arrival, and asking him when it would be convenient for him to receive me on board. His reply was a visit from himself, in full uniform. He came ashore in a boat full of interesting-looking marines.

After having received him and entertained ourselves at the house we were in, M. Cecile invited me to go with him on board the corvette, where he placed his table at my disposal during my stay in the Bay. After this first visit, when I was taking my leave of him, he invited me to make use of his boat to return on shore. The French flag, fixed at the stern, floated over my head, and as I neared the shore a salute of artillery was fired from the corvette in honour of my episcopal dignity. The whole country, far and wide, resounded with the firing of the cannon. It caused a great sensation amongst the people. The white people and the natives saw for the first time in this Bay a military salute, and it inspired them with sentiments of astonishment and respect both for the French military authorities who saluted with so much solemnity, and for the French Bishop who was thus honoured and who lived in their country.

The day after my arrival from Hokianga, whilst I was in the company of the commander in the saloon, a sailor of the crew asked to speak with me. By permission of the captain he was brought in. Immediately I saw a man with a long beard enter, who respectfully begged me to administer to him his first communion. Up to that time he had had no opportunity. He was a marine about forty-eight years of age, who had been since boyhood in the service of the royal navy. He had only been baptized in the Catholic Church, and could neither read nor write. However he was passably acquainted with the truths of morality and religion. I promised, therefore, to satisfy his good desires and to prepare him myself with diligence in the six or eight days during which the corvette was still to remain on the coast. He went away quite contented, and told his comrades of the promise I had made him. M. Cecile exempted him from duty so that he might attend to the preparatory spiritual exercises.

When the other sailors, who had not as yet made their first communion, learnt the pious wishes of their comrade, and the facility there was for fulfilling them, they made me the same request, and received the same answer and the same exemption from duty from their commander. There were about seventeen of them. Besides this, as at this period, paschal time was far from having elapsed in New Zealand. Several other sailors, who had already made their first communion, wished to fulfill their Easter duties, and accompany to the Holy-table those who were about to approach it for the first time. Altogether they amounted in number to about twenty-five.

To the first I gave instructions twice a day, either on board the corvette or on shore. They procured a French catechism on board for me, and I marked in it the passages which were necessary for them to know well and to study, at least as far as their meaning was concerned. Some of them could read, and I set them to read aloud to the others the passages and reflections which I had marked, and on which I afterwards examined and instructed them. They passed nearly the whole day in carrying out with admirable diligence and docility all that I had set down for them to do. They made also a kind

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of retreat, and came turn about to confess themselves at the hours I had appointed, and I soon saw myself, with consolation, fully occupied with the care of these sailors.

Nevertheless, I had some hours during the day to visit the chiefs and the native tribes who were in the neighbourhood of the vast Bay of Islands. M. Cecile had the goodness to place his own boat at my disposal, and I made use of it in all my missionary journeys, on which he took pleasure in accompanying me. Sunday was drawing near; the preparations of the communicants were finished. On Saturday I proposed to the commander that he should allow me next day to celebrate Low Mass on the deck of the Heroine, at which the sailors who had been prepared could partake of Holy Communion. He consented, and gave orders that the preparations for the ceremony of worship should be made by the men on board. From early morning on Sunday the deck was splendidly decorated with awnings and flags, and Captain Cecile himself might have been seen working with his own hands decorating the altar, which was erected against the vessel's poop. Since the day before, the white people and the natives had been told of the ceremonies that were to take place on board the Heroine, and that on that day she would be thrown open to anyone who wished to come.

Mass was celebrated at ten o'clock, the commander with the officers of his staff assisting at it in full uniform. A company of Protestant ladies and gentlemen and some natives from Kororareka were present, and comfortable places found for them. The entire crew filled the rest of the deck--there were about three hundred people on board. After the Gospel I addressed a short discourse to this interesting assembly. All conducted themselves with religious respect. At the Elevation a squad of gunners went through the exercise of kneeling, whilst the sound of the drum re-echoed along the shore and through the infant township, announcing to all that our Divine Saviour was immolating Himself under the shadow of the French flag for the salvation of the whole of New Zealand. At the Communion one could see coming out from the ranks of the military, the sailors whom I had prepared on the preceding days. They came to-day meditatingly, and without earthly thoughts, and kneeling, formed a large half-circle round the altar. Though they were bearded and in military costume, they already shared in the sweetness and modesty of that Lamb without stain, to whom they were about to unite themselves. All eyes were fixed on them; they attracted looks of surprise, admiration, and respect. What a beautiful example these Christian sailors were setting so far from their own land; their praise is that of their worthy commander. What a consoling spectacle to a Catholic Bishop just escaped from the persecutions of heresy! To-day, in the face of all New Zealand, he confessed the most august of Sacraments, and proclaimed to these marines the God of charity, clemency, and peace. Alas! this God was not then known in this country; but to-day He is the cause of happiness to numberless infidels and cannibals, converted to the faith.

Since the stay of the corvette Heroine at the Bay of Islands, the people have been unable to forget the worthy commander, his noble character, his discernment, his firm yet prudent conduct, his loyalty and his religion; neither can they forget the edifying example set by his crew to New Zealand. After the visit of M. Cecile to this country, heresy stood greatly in the background, its wishes for evil had been intimidated, the Catholic minister was left free and respected, and the mission began to develop itself everywhere. There was in the future no other fighting than that of the Word against heresy and infidelity.

Civilisation and religion are deeply indebted to Captain Cecile for the events which I have chronicled, and their happy results. Sometimes in society they attribute to motives of policy or interest the benefits which the powerful of the earth confer on the Church. But whether this be so or not, if selfish intentions are to be found in them, still God is judge of all. Their faults are their own, their good actions are the Church's, who is ever grateful, and repays them with her praises, her prayers, and her vows for happiness.

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After the departure of the protecting corvette, which had come to visit me, I busied myself seriously in establishing a place of central administration and a store at the Bay of Islands, which would give me the means of frequent and advantageous communication. The native chiefs had already expressed to me their desire to embrace the Catholic religion as soon as I should have established a missionary station in their country. After a short stay amongst them I left them in the hope that their desires and my own would be accomplished, and returned to Hokianga to continue there the work of this first station.

In the month of June of this year the house of boards which I had ordered was completed at a place called Papakauwau. We now knew enough Maori to commence instructing the people. The day on which I took possession of this new house, situated in the centre of Hokianga, a religious ceremony was held, and also a fete amongst the Catholic white people and amongst the natives of three tribes who had come to the place where my new residence was. My approach was heralded by a salvo of musketry. Then entering the house, I celebrated Holy Mass in the principal room, which had been decorated with tapestry, and where the mission altar had been prepared on the previous day. After the Gospel I preached in Maori for the first time to the numerous natives, who had assembled both inside and outside the house.

From that time forth instructions in the faith in Maori were regularly given on Sundays, and frequently on week days, to the natives who came to us. M. Servant was entrusted with the charge of the establishment and the instruction of the natives who came there. My principal occupation was visiting the tribes about Hokianga and its vicinity, giving them the first lessons in the faith, and calling them to the kingdom of God. Soon the Paternoster, the Ave Maria, and the Credo were translated into their language; I also composed a canticle on the existence, perfections, and blessings bestowed by God. The singing of this canticle and the saying of short prayers I have mentioned were the sole religious exercises, morning and evening, of the people who came to church. It was not long before we saw a great eagerness amongst these people to be instructed and to become Christians. We were soon able to count approximately from fifteen to eighteen hundred natives who used Catholic prayers in their tribes. Already, on the great Feast of the Assumption, which I celebrated at my place of residence, we had the consolation of seeing the greatest chiefs of Hokianga assisting at the holy offices.

Heresy seemed to shudder at the sight of this great number of people who for several years had resisted it, and who yet answered in crowds the voice of the Mother Church. So a last attempt was made by the Protestant ministers to rid the country of us. One day they gathered together all the chiefs among their disciples at their station, in order to hold a grand consultation, the result of which was to be our expulsion. To do this, they purposed using the authority of the principal chiefs of Hokianga, very few of whom were among their disciples. But their plans were frustrated by the greatest chiefs, who were Catholic catechumens, and who, on their side, also held a consultation and informed the Methodist party of their firm resolve to keep the Catholic Bishop at Hokianga, and, if necessary, to oppose with force the force of the aggressors.

Really eloquent speeches were made in the council of the Catholic catechumens. They had prepared everything for war, should it be necessary. A general-in-chief had been elected from among their number. When all their deliberations were concluded this general came to speak to me and addressed me in the following energetic manner:--"Bishop, thou hast quitted thy country and thy relations to come and teach us. Well fear nothing here in our midst. They shall not drive thee away. Remain here. Remain! remain! and know that before a blow can reach thee, we shall all be stretched dead around thy house."

I replied that I was fully sensible of the expressions of their devotion, but trusted it would not be put to the proof. We shook hands and all was over. Nevertheless all the chiefs, with about three hundred of their men, remained during two days about our dwelling, awaiting the result of the Methodist council, holding themselves in readiness

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for a battle, should any hostile attempt be made against the Bishop. At last they learnt from sure sources that the Methodist council had been dissolved, and that they had concluded not to make any attack, but to stay quietly at home. From that time all attempts at evil were abandoned and the country was at peace with the Catholic minister.

All the calumnies of heresy, all its hostile menaces and the troubles which it had raised up, rebounded on its own head, paralysing its influence on the minds of the people, and spreading far and wide the knowledge of our holy cause, which defended itself by arguments that convinced their souls, so that soon people from beyond Hokianga sent us messages, asking for the teaching of the Catholic Church, which they called the "Mother Church," the "trunk of the true Church," the "living-tree Church." They would have nothing to do (they said) with the teachings of the Protestant sects, who differed from us, and whom they called the "cut-off branches Church." As a rule, all the people at Hokianga and beyond esteemed, respected, and liked us. Many of the natives, who before our arrival had followed the Protestants, now came to us to be instructed and baptized.

At this time I had no printing materials for the mission, and we were overwhelmed with the work of writing out short abridgments of instruction on the faith, and the prayers for morning and evening, which we distributed amongst the tribes who were asking for them on all sides. Providence greatly helped these people in the work of their salvation. Many intelligent young people quickly learnt to read and write. In nearly every tribe was to be found some one who could read the little manuscripts of doctrine and prayers which they obtained from us.

But heresy had great advantages over us. It was in constant communication with its branches in Europe. Temporal assistance was administered to it with regularity, activity, and certainty. As for us, we were destitute: our long voyages by sea and the works we had begun in Oceania had absorbed all our funds. After a residence here of six months we found ourselves in the greatest want. No communication had been thoroughly established with Europe; and the society for assisting missions had shown no sign of life.

Heresy had two printing presses at its command, one at Hokianga and the other at the Bay of Islands. They scattered broadcast over the country pamphlets, tracts, and little books, which, while teaching the first truths of salvation, were filled with all sorts of objections and calumnies against the minister and the faith of the Catholic Church. After the Methodist consultation which had been held at Hokianga to drive us from the country, the Protestant press issued a pamphlet of four pages, entitled, "The Anti-christ" (ko te anatikaraiti), in which they endeavoured to prove to the people that the Catholic Church with its Pontiff at Rome and its Bishop in New Zealand was Anti-christ, and that our teachings were full of errors and very injurious to the country. But the New Zealanders did not pay much attention to this pamphlet, although a great number of copies were distributed amongst them. So it happened not unfrequently that they, without the slightest evil intention, saluted me by the name of Anti-christ; but when I told them that my true name was "Episcopo," and that that which the missionaries wished to give me was quite unknown to me, they at once refrained from using the name, of whose evil meaning they were ignorant. Alas! to combat the efforts of heresy and its thousands of prints against us, we had only our voices and our pens. The weapons were far from equal. But we knew that the grace of the Lord accompanied the lawfulness of our ministrations. So in a three or four days' visit I paid to the tribes of Hokianga, where the Anti-christ pamphlet had been circulated, I refuted it by word of mouth, and its influence was paralysed. Heresy had a very great advantage over us. It could actively multiply its teachers of error; it could soon make missionaries. They were frequently taken from the workshop, from the agricultural classes, and from the sea-faring people. A Bible was put in their hands, they were paid a good salary, allowed to meddle in secular matters, and provided they sold books and pamphlets to the people and spread calumnies against the Mother Church, no other apostleship was required of them.

Besides this, Protestantism in Oceania possessed among its various sects two or

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three vessels which were always at its disposal to carry hither and thither its swarm of missionaries and its bales of pamphlets. Wherever heresy directed its steps or established a missionary station, it rendered its ministers perfectly independent of the natives, furnished them abundantly with everything necessary for their existence and for holding a distinguished position. They therefore cost the people nothing, and established with them commercial relations. So that it was not a spirit of charity that filled their disciples, but rather a spirit of commerce.

For us who were destitute of all assistance after the first six months of our stay at Hokianga, it would have been imprudent to have solicited any help from the people or from our own catechumens. The independent style which heresy had followed opposed it and indirectly prevented the exercise of charity towards us.

Neither had I a vessel at my disposal to go and visit the missionary stations established at Wallis and Futuna. Merchant vessels going to these places were few and far between. Neither could I increase, with the same quickness as heresy, Catholic missionaries whom I might distribute over the different parts of my jurisdiction. However, after a stay of six months in Oceania, I was expecting the fresh priests and catechists who had been promised me. My correspondence gave me also reason to hope that funds in sufficient quantity would be sent to enable me to maintain these new people as well as my old ones, and to procure for my Apostolic Vicariate a schooner to do my missionary work, and thus put me on more equal terms with the boats belonging to heresy, of which three or four were always at their disposal, to traverse the seas in all directions, and to carry them to all the islands.

When I founded the stations of Wallis and Futuna, I expected at the end of six months a fresh consignment of people and funds, which would place me in a position to visit and strengthen these two stations. Besides, I had learnt at Tahiti, from several masters of vessels, that in New Zealand I should have opportunities of finding ships by which I might pay missionary visits to the islands in the tropical zone. But, alas! I was disappointed in both these respects. All my funds had been exhausted in my travels in the founding of the mission. Instead of receiving fresh people and funds at the end of six months, it was not until I had been seventeen months in New Zealand that I received them. What pain at heart I suffered during that time through my inability to visit and help the stations at Wallis and Futuna, and extend my labours more and more over New Zealand, where heresy, profiting by the state of paralysis in which my administration was placed, was making ravages at all points of the island. Even at that time, if the chance of obtaining a vessel had presented itself, I lacked the means to pay for my passage. But, as I said before, the opportunities were very rare; and even though they had been frequent, it would have been impossible for me to have embraced them. At this period, and for several years afterwards, it was an essential condition of success that the Apostolic Vicariate should possess a vessel to prosecute the work of salvation among the people of these lands. For one must always shape the means towards the end to be obtained, and circumstances imperiously demanded that the Vicar-Apostolic should be provided with a missionary schooner.

But God ordained that I should pursue my work without this aid. I was forced to remain at Hokianga, where I was partly consoled by the great number of people who entered the catechumenate of the Church, and some fifty neophytes who had been baptized. On the other hand, I was greatly grieved at my state of captivity in this country, at the poverty I was in, at my inability to pay desirable visits, and at the wants of the people, which I was unable to supply. I kept them always in hope that new priests would come to teach them. They relied on my promises, and every time a vessel came to the port of Hokianga a crowd of natives might be seen on the banks of the river whither they had run in the hopes of at length receiving the ministers of salvation whose coming their Bishop had promised. Then, when the people found that the expected priests were not on board, they returned to their tribes with a sadness proportionate to the joy and haste with which they had come. Afterwards they came to where I lived to tell me of their surprise, and of the trouble the non-fulfilment of my promises caused

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them. They could easily see, looking at the extent of country over which their settlements extended, that it was an impossibility for me, with a single priest, to instruct them fully and quickly as they desired. Sometimes they said to me, "Bishop, thou art fatiguing thyself much, thou wilt not live long, and if thou diest, who will look after our instruction?" I answered, though the bishop might die, the bishopric would not, but that so soon as I should die, the Pope would nominate some one to replace me. Then I exhorted them to have confidence in God, who, having called them to the kingdom of heaven, or to His true Church, would never forsake them. Alas! in the deserted position I was in, I was forced to limit all my labours to the teaching of the people of Hokianga.

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