St Peter Chanel, SM
- Protomartyr of the South Pacific
Peter Chanel was born in Cuet, France in 1803. He had a strong desire to serve God as a priest and was ordained in 1827. His first appointment was to the parish of Crozet. The people in the parish soon felt the sincerity and holiness by which they would remember him. In 1831, Peter Chanel joined the Society of Mary, which at that stage, was still awaiting ecclesiastical approval from Rome. As a Marist Father he was sent to the College of Belley, first as a spiritual director and then as rector. Today a statue of St Peter stands in the grounds of the College.
As soon as the Society of Mary had received approval and the Marists took vows, a group was sent to the South Pacific to undertake the task of spreading the gospel to the peoples of that part of the world. Peter volunteered to join the pioneering band. To do so would have required incredible courage and faith. The South Pacific was an area of the world that was just opening up to influence from Europe and it was a very different world from the one familiar to Peter and his companions. The first band of Marist missionaries departed from France on Christmas Eve in 1836. Death by plague had taken the life of one of the first Marist missionaries before Peter and his companion, 20 year old Br Marie Nizier, arrived on the tiny island of Futuna.
Peter worked with outstanding generosity and commitment among the inhabitants of Futuna for four years. He endured extreme difficulties and hardship because of his love of Jesus and Mary and his dedication to the people of the small Pacific island. The people of Futuna were so impressed by Peter's selflessness and love that they gave him the name, "the man with the good heart."
Because of fear and jealousy, the king took steps to get rid of the missionaries and he tried to starve them. Attempts by Fr Peter and Br Marie Nizier to grow vegetables were frustrated by raids on their garden by people who tried to stop them from having access to food. Finally, the king gave orders for the missionaries to be murdered.
Early in the morning of 28th April, 1841, Peter was awakened from sleep and clubbed to death. The blows split his skull. Peter became the first martyr of the fledgling Society of Mary and the one of the first martyrs of the Pacific region. He was only 38 years old when he died.
Only after his death could the true value of Peter's work be seen. Within two years the Society of Mary was again taking care of the people of Futuna and in a short time the whole island, including those who murdered Peter Chanel, became Christian.
On 12th June, 1954 Pope Pius XII declared St Peter Chanel, S.M. to be a saint of the Church of God. We celebrate St Peter's feast day on 28th April each year.
CHURCH of OUR LADY of LOURDES
and St PETER CHANEL SM, HULL
The woodcarver and artist (he has done some lovely colourful paintings too of polynesian traditional designs) is called Frank Haikiu and his family origin is in the island of Bellona on the western outskirts of (but within) Solomon Islands. Solomon Islands - perhaps 100 islands - stretches about 900 miles from the Shortlands group in the North West to Temotu and Vanikoro in the South East. And roughly 600 miles from Rennel and Belona in the West to Tikopeia in the East.
The central islands like Guadalcanal, Isabel and Malaita
are Melanesian tribes by far the majority. The Polynesians on the fringes as in Tikopeia and Rennell and Bellona (demonstrating and scaring off their enemies as in the NZ Haka)
Far over in the Pacific to the east of us are Wallis and Futuna, (Polynesian Islands as in Tonga and Samoa) the latter where Peter Chanel was martyred.
When I asked Frank Haikiu to do a woodcarving for the church in Hull of the death of Peter Chanel, we read together the story and talked about Christian commitment and the meeting of two cultures, native of Futuna island and visitor from Europe.
We talked together, not of the contrast between white man and black man, but of the contrast between Christian and Heathen,
a human person following in the footsteps of Christ, the lamb to be sacrificed and a human person dominated by anger and bullying his way to preserve his mastery by violence. I didn't want to record racism.
So we came to the conclusion that the lesson was one for all people of any race. The christian martyr might very well be any polynesian, Futunian or Bellona. Or Solomon Islander - Melanesian, Polynesian or Micronesian (those immigrants from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, i.e Kiriabati and Tuvalu, settled here in British Colonial days).
Frank Haikiu is one of the best known carvers in the Pacific and has travelled all over the world with art exhibitions and workshops. He was at the primary school here in St. Mary's Tanagai though not a catholic. His brother is an Anglican priest here locally and though Frank followed Bahai people he is still a gentle and devoted husband and father. He lost a lot of property to vandals and Malaita Eagles in the time of the Tension but never shows resentment or hatred to his opponents.
His other works around catholic mission places include:carvings in the Holy Cross Cathedral, big cross suspended over the altar, the altar, the Stations of the Cross, Mary, Joseph, Christ Suffering, in the chapel at St Joseph's Secondary Tenaru ......and most recently the altar in our Marist Chapel here in the Marist Community in Tanagai.
So there you are Michael....off the top of my head and I hope I haven't missed out anything significant. Tell me what you think and is there anything else you want.
(Fr Norman Arkwright SM, Tanagai, Honiara, Solomon Islands)