Sydney’s diverse Islander communities celebrate St Peter Chanel’s arrival on Futuna 185 years ago
The diverse Pacific island Catholic communities across the Archdiocese of Sydney have come together in what they hope will now become an annual night of faith, food and friendship to honour the Patron Saint of Oceania, the Marist St Peter Chanel, on his feast day on 28 April.
In front of a packed St Mary’s Cathedral, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP led a Mass timed to coincide with the 185th anniversary of St Peter Chanel’s arrival on the island of Futuna, which had converted wholesale to Catholic Christianity within months of the death of this inspirational French missionary priest.
The Mass featured traditional music, dance and prayers led by members across the diverse Oceanic Catholic communities including the Fijian, Tongan, Samoan and Rarotongan communities.
In his homily, Archbishop Fisher compared St Peter Chanel to the great evangelisers of the early Church, Saints Peter and Paul who were also honoured for their great courage and perseverance despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
“Chanel’s name-saint Simon Peter said “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6) and throughout Eastertide we read his adventures catching people with the simple bait of the story of Jesus. So too, St Paul, the sail-maker and thrice shipwrecked seafarer who became the most prolific people-fisher in history, tells us today that he had no elaborate lures or nets but simply “preached a crucified Christ… the power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:18-25).
“Likewise Chanel and team arrived in the Islands to preach, not a God of wealth and power, nor some demiurge known to the locals, but the one Lord of sea and sky, who had emptied Himself of His divinity and human life for our sake… and they came to preach, not to the mighty of the earth but to simple fishermen and other Islanders called by God”, Archbishop Fisher said.
St Peter Chanel was clubbed to death in 1841 after a chieftain opposed his missionary efforts on the island of Fortuna and this great Marist priest is honoured today as the first martyr of Oceania.
Archbishop Fisher said his missionary zeal should serve as a powerful example to Pacific islanders of today.
“If ever support were needed for Tertullian’s claim that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed for the Church’, the life of St Peter Chanel is powerful testimony. And now he hands over his net over to us, to be transmitting the faith to our Pacific youth and catching new souls for Christ”.
“And now he hands over his net to us, to be transmitting the faith to our pacific youth and catching new souls for christ”
At the heart of that missionary effort for over 20 years has been Fijian-born Fr Epeli Qimaqima who was a member of the Activ8 Oceania Youth Committee in the lead up to World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008.
Fr Epeli worked with other members of the committee on a plan to ensure there was an annual Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral for the Catholics of Oceania on the feast of their patron St Peter Chanel. He is overjoyed to now see that vision become a reality.
“St Peter Chanel was a great evangeliser in the same way that Pope Francis has called for the Church to be like a “field hospital” that cares for the most disadvantaged, the sick and the infirm. In so doing, St Peter Chanel left a powerful mark behind in the hearts of our people”, he said.
Fr Epeli said planning has begun to send a group of Pacific Islander Catholics to Futuna for celebrations in 2037 to mark the 200th anniversary of St Peter Chanel’s arrival on the island.