Tuesday, 28 April 2009
Feast of St Peter Chanel, Patron and first Martyr of Oceania
"Pierre Louis Marie Chanel was born on July 12, 1803 in La Potière near Cuet in the area of Belley, France.
After some schooling at Cras his piety and intelligence attracted the attention of a local priest, Fr Trompier, and he was put into Church-sponsored education. He followed this with seminary training in 1819 at the minor seminary at Meximieux and Belley in 1823, and then in 1824 at the major seminary at Brou.
He was ordained priest along with 24 others on 15 July 1827 by Bishop Devie and spent a brief time as an assistant priest at Ambérieu. There he again met Claude Bret who was to become his friend and also one of the first Marist Missionaries.
From an early age Chanel had been thinking about going on the foreign missions and his intention was strengthened by the letters that arrived at Ambérieu from a former curate, then a missionary in India.
The following year Chanel applied to the bishop of Belley for permission to go to the missions. His application was not accepted and instead he was appointed for the next three years as parish priest of the run down parish of Crozet, which he revitalized in that short time.
His zeal was widely respected and his care, particularly of those in the parish that were sick, won the hearts of the locals who began again to practice their faith. During this time Chanel heard of a group of Diocesan Priests who were hopeful of starting a religious order to be dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Missionary and martyr
In 1831, he joined the forming Society of Mary (Marists), who would concentrate on local missions and foreign missionary work. Instead of being selected as a missionary, however, the Marists used his talents as the spiritual director at the Seminary of Belley, where he stayed for five years. In 1833 he accompanied Fr Jean-Claude Colin to Rome to seek approval of the nascent Society. In 1836, the Marists, finally formally approved by Pope Gregory XVI, were asked to send missionaries to the territory of the South West Pacific. Chanel, professed a Marist on 24 September 1836 was made the superior of a band of Marist missionaries that set out on 24 December from Le Havre. They were accompanied by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier who was to become the first Bishop of New Zealand. Pompallier had been appointed by Gregory XVI to care for the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania. Pompallier based himself in New Zealand from 1838 and became the first Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand in 1848.
Travelling via the Canary Islands (8 Jan 1837) where Fr Claude Bret (Chanel's friend) caught a flu-like virus which led to his death at sea (20 Mar 1837) and then Valparaiso (28 June) (where the French Picpus Fathers who had care of the Vicariate of Eastern Oceania had their base) and Gambier (13 Sept) then Tahiti (21 Sept) where the group transferred to the Raiatea and set sail for Tonga (23 Oct) before first dropping two missionaries at ʻUvea (still named Wallis by the French), the mainseat of the mission. Pierre Chanel went to neighbouring Futuna Island, accompanied by a French laybrother Marie-Nizier Delorme. They arrived on 8 November 1837 with a Protestant layman named Thomas Boag who had been resident on the island and had joined them at Tonga seeking passage to Futuna.
The group was initially well received by the island's king, Niuliki. Once the missionaries learned the local language and began preaching directly to the people, the king grew restive. He believed that Christianity would take away his prerogatives as high priest and king. When the king's son, Meitala sought to be baptized, the king sent a favoured warrior his son-in-law, Musumusu to "do whatever was necessary" to resolve the problem. Musumusu initially went to Meitala and the two fought. Musumusu, injured in the fracas went to Chanel feigning need of medical attention. While Chanel tended him a group of others ransacked his house. Musumusu took an axe and clubbed Chanel on the head. Pierre died that day, April 28, 1841...."