by Wiga Autet

The missionary life and work of St Peter Chanel was a focus of a challenge at the National Shrine of St Peter Chanel at Russell on April 28.In his homily at an anniversary Mass there, Fr Trevor Tindall, SM, with Frs Barry Malone, SM, and Kerry Prendeville, SM, marked the 175th anniversary of the saint’s martyrdom on Futuna Island.

The altar in the National Shrine of St Peter Chanel, on which (to the right of the altar cross) are his relics; behind is the mosaic depicting two fish and, below, the canvas with images of Futuna Island.
The altar in the National Shrine of St Peter
Chanel, on which (to the right of the altar
cross) are his relics; behind is the mosaic
depicting two fish and, below, the canvas
with images of Futuna Island.

The usually small local congregation was bolstered for the occasion by parishioners from Moerewa, Paihia, Waitaruke, Kerikeri and Kaikohe and a few other visitors, all gathered to recall, pray for and
give thanks to God for St Peter Chanel, a patron saint of the Church in Aotearoa-NZ and Oceania.

Fr Trevor first highlighted three qualities he found significant in St Peter Chanel:

Courage: The strength, fortitude and conviction to take on the task of leaving home, family and friends; of leaving
behind all that he knew, all that he was accustomed to and travel to the other unknown side of the world to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Perseverance: Having brought God to Futuna and discovered difficulties and challenges of a new language and customs, the determination to keep going, to keep working on the task at hand,
to continue his ministry.

Self-sacrifice: Peter was inspired by the letters sent by missionaries from India; he had longed to do likewise, and so he did, giving up his family and his familiar world and taking on a new culture and a foreign language and, ultimately, offering his life to spread the Gospel.

That led Fr Tindall to some challenging questions: Was Peter successful? How does one measure success? An achievement?

“In three years Peter spent on Futuna,” said Fr Tindall, “he made maybe 20 converts: four were adults, the rest probably children, most of them sick and dying anyhow… And so, one could say that he virtually achieved nothing . . . and yet,” continued Fr Tindall, “he has achieved something, because we are here tonight.”

In his concluding words, Fr Tindall invited his listeners to revisit the measuring sticks we use to judge success in life, suggesting that Peter Chanel and Our Lord have a different measuring stick and that the challenge for us might be to move away from what we might consider success to what they consider success and achievement.

In fact, success or failure is often not completely in our hands, and sometimes we have to face what seems almost certain failure. But success is not required, only fidelity. St Peter Chanel’s work ended
in his death in the face of what seemed like failure. Out of that failure, God brought about the success Peter Chanel was seeking.

Peter Chanel’s violent death brought about the conversion of the island shortly afterwards, and the people of Futuna remain Catholic to this day.

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