28 April 2017

St. Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr

On April 18, 1841, a band of native warriors entered the hut of a missionary priest, Father Peter Chanel on the island of Futuna in the New Hebrides islands – now called Vanuatu. They clubbed the missionary to death and cut up his body with hatchets. But just two years after this murder, the complete population of the island was Catholic. St. Peter Chanel's death bears witness to the ancient axiom that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."

What led up to this wonderful conversion of so many people? St. Peter Chanel came there as the fulfillment of a dream he had had as a boy. He was born in 1803 in France. At the age of seven, he was a shepherd boy, but the local parish priest, recognizing something unusual in the boy, convinced his parents to let him study in a little school the priest had started. From there Peter went on to the seminary, and was ordained a priest and assigned to a very difficult, run-down parish. In three short years there was a complete transformation of the people in the parish – whereas there had been very few who practiced the Faith, when he left, nearly everyone had returned to the Sacraments.

In 1831, he felt called by God to enter a missionary society of priests, and his dream of going to mission territory finally happened in 1836. He was sent to the island of Futuna, where he had to suffer great hardships, disappointments, frustration, and almost complete failure, as well as the opposition of the local chieftain. The work seemed hopeless: only a few had been baptized, and the chieftain continued to be suspicious and hostile. Then, when the chief's son asked for baptism, the chief was so angry that he sent warriors to kill the missionary. It would have seemed that was the end. St. Peter Chanel did not live to see any success coming from his hard work, but his violent death brought about the conversion of the island, and the people of Futuna remain Catholic to this day.

O God, who for the spreading of thy Church didst crown Saint Peter Chanel with martyrdom: grant that, in these days of Paschal joy, we may so celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Death and Resurrection as to bear worthy witness to newness of life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.