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How St. Peter Chanel became the patron saint of Oceania

PETER CHANEL

Tauʻolunga CC

Philip Kosloski - published on 04/27/24

St. Peter was martyred on a small island in the Pacific Ocean, becoming the proto-martyr of Oceania, which includes a number of small islands.

During the 19th century, many missionaries embarked on heroic adventures to bring the Gospel to all corners of the earth.

St. Peter Chanel was one of those missionaries, a priest Society of Mary, or Marists as they are also called.

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains the mission he was given and how he approached the natives of the small island:

Chanel, after taking the three religious vows at the hands of Father Colin, founder and first superior of the Marists, embarked that same year for his distant mission under the leadership of Bishop Bataillon, and was sent to the island called Horn, or Allofatu, by geographers, and Futuna by the natives.

War between rival tribes and the practice of cannibalism had reduced its population to a few thousands when Chanel landed on its shores. The religion he found there was a worship of terror offered to evil deities. Chanel labored faithfully amid the greatest hardships, learning the native language, attending the sick, baptizing the dying, and winning from all the name of “the man with the kind heart.”

Martyrdom

Chanel’s activities drew the attention of the local ruler, who grew agitated and disliked the fact that many of his people were turning to Christianity.

He became a target for the ruler’s men and “one shattered his arm and wounded his left temple with a war-club. Another struck him to the ground with a bayonet. A third beat him severely with a club. The missionary was uttering the while words of gentle resignation: ‘Malie fuai’ (it is well for me).”

After Chanel’s death the people of the island regretted killing him and within two years had all converted to Christianity.

The island remains a Catholic island, with 99% of its inhabitants claiming to belong to the Roman Catholic Church.

After St. Peter Chanel was canonized by the Church, he was declared the patron saint of Oceania, which includes roughly 10,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean.

He remains one of the only canonized saints in all of Oceania (depending on which islands you include in the definition). For example, the Philippines and Hawaii are often not included in this specific definition of Oceania.

His example of a “kind heart” remains an inspiration today for many missionaries, who desire to spread the Gospel to the farthest reaches of the world.

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