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St Peter Chanel Honoured at Fourvière

St Peter Chanel is the first martyr of Oceania and his feast day is 28th April. Celebrations for his feast day began before dawn on 03 April.

Volunteers at the Sanctuary of Fourvière lit the fire to cook a large pig on a spit. In true Polynesian style, the Sanctuary prepared to welcome pilgrims from far and wide to celebrate this great Marist missionary saint. Pilgrims included a large cohort from the Parish of St Peter Chanel in Waimakariri.

Bishop Pompallier made his first voyage to the Pacific in 1837. Marist priest, Peter Chanel, and six of his
confreres (both priests and brothers) travelled with the bishop. Before their journey, Peter Chanel had the
intuition to write the names of the small band of missionaries on a scroll. He added this scroll to a golden heart around the neck of the statue of Our Lady of Fourvière, at the Basilica of Fourvière in Lyon.

Peter Chanel’s mission on the island of Futuna proved very difficult, and for a long time there were no baptisms. However, Peter persevered and one day, the son of the King of the island expressed his will to be baptised. The Islanders were infuriated and killed Peter with an axe. Fr Peter forgave his attackers as he prepared to meet Jesus and Mary. Shortly after his death, the entire island converted to the Lord.

As a son of Fourvière, St Peter Chanel is a wonderful example of missionary zeal. In bringing the Gospel to the people of the Pacific, he continues to inspire us today. New Zealand is still a mission field and, now more than ever, our people thirst for the joy of the Gospel to give them hope and peace.

This is why the Beatitudes Community in New Zealand and the Sanctuary of Fourvière want to celebrate the heroes of this first missionary effort in Oceania. Sr Thérése of the Community of the Beatitudes is herself a missionary Sister from France. She said of the celebration, “St Peter Chanel is a very discreet and gentle Saint, and it is easy to forget that he is the first Saint and martyr of Oceania, patron Saint of this wide and diverse area and of New Zealand. He is a son of France and so he takes a fitting place in the mission trail of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fourvière, where amongst other fellow French missionaries, he is honoured and remembered.”

The Beatitudes chose to create the Sanctuary of Fourvière as their apostolic arm in New Zealand. They
did so to invite people to reconnect with their Catholic roots and to encounter Jesus and Mary in a fresh
way. The Beatitudes Community is the world’s first Ecclesial Family of Consecrated Life. It consists of
religious sisters and brothers and full lay members, including families. The Community gives the Sanctuary vitality and a beautiful life of prayer and contemplation which is open to all to share. The Sanctuary is a place where people can pray, celebrate, and seek retreat. As Fourvière in Lyon was for
Saint Peter Chanel, it is a place where people can dedicate themselves to Mary and commit their lives to being missionaries, especially within their own families and communities.

Fr Ben D’Souza, himself a Marist priest, has studied the letters which Chanel and others exchanged with family and Church Authorities while on their mission. Fr Ben addressed the pilgrims gathered at the Sanctuary of Fourvière at the feast day celebrations, speaking of the harsh living conditions, uncertainties, and sacrifices that characterised this first mission. He also gave us an insight into this great Saint’s missionary heart, and encouraged us all to take the same advice given to Peter and the first missionaries by their superiors:

“Never rely on yourself, but solely on Jesus and Mary. Be Christ to others – it is Christ who sends you. Be a man of prayer. Place yourself and others under the protection of Mary through the rosary. Keep unity and peace amongst yourselves.”

After the talk, the crowd gathered at the foundation of what will eventually become a Futunian Fale (Polynesian Hut) which is being built in Mary’s Garden at the Sanctuary of Fourvière, as a shrine to St Peter Chanel. There, Fr Ben blessed the foundation of the new structure. Inside the Fale, a beautiful original icon of St Peter Chanel will be displayed. The icon is written by resident artist, Chris Verryt. It depicts St Peter Chanel under the mantle of Mary, who holds the infant Jesus in the same way as the statue inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Fourvière in Lyon. This is the very same statue where Fr Peter Chanel placed
the golden heart containing the names of those first missionaries. The Fale will also be home to some first-class relics of St Peter Chanel. The day finished with Mass at the Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Light, and a feast with spit roast pork and other Pasifika cuisine.

This celebration is the first of what will become an annual event at the Sanctuary in Leithfield, with the 2023 event already being planned. It will be a very special year on the feast of St Peter Chanel. Not only will the Fale be completed, opened, and blessed, but organisers are hoping to welcome pilgrims from New Caledonia and around the Pacific, especially from the Island of Futuna. This was unable to happen this year because of Covid restrictions. The year 2023 will also be extra special as it will coincide with the
50th Jubilee of the Community of the Beatitudes. The feast of St Peter Chanel will fall on a Saturday, making it the perfect day for you and your family to plan a very special visit to the Sanctuary.

In the meanwhile, the Sanctuary of Fourvière is open daily from Tuesday to Sunday with Mass at 12pm and morning adoration. Confessions are available each Saturday from 11am and the ’12 stars’ pilgrim shelter is open to serve you espresso coffee from 10:30am to 12pm and from 2pm to 4pm. Retreats of various kinds are also now bookable again. Please email Sr Clare of the Community of the Beatitudes, retreats@fourviere.nz, to book yours today. The Sanctuary of Fourvière is at 67 Leithfield Road.

Copied from Inform Issue 132