Missionary Pierre Chanel
The story of the only Catholic martyr in Polynesia started in France. Pierre Louis Marie Chanel was born in Ain department in 1803 and learned in church school.
Chanel had a vocation to serve as a missionary in lands far away. Already during his ecclesiastical career in France, he was much respected for his cordiality and ability to find a common language with everyone.
Marists – Pacific missionaries
Chanel and a group of other young French pastors since the early 1830s were actively organizing a new movement in the Catholic church – the Society of Mary, known as Marists. They planned to organize a foreign missionary work in places where the Catholic church was not present or was weak. Chanel had a prominent role in the official establishment of this society and in 1836 he with a group of his companions set for a journey to South West Pacific.
Arrival in Futuna
They selected Wallis island as the main seat for their mission in Tonga, but Pierre Chanel went to the nearby Futuna island. He arrived here on 8 November 1837 with his faithful companion Marie-Nizier Delorme and English Thomas Boag joined them here.
Initially they were well received by the island’s king Niuliki who allowed them to stay here. But as they started to preach to the local people, the king became increasingly hostile – may be because the Christian faith was replacing his influence as the high priest of his nation.
King was especially infuriated by the fact that his own son Meitala wanted to be baptized. Thus the king Niuliki sent his favorite warrior Musumusu with a group of other assassins to "solve the problem". Musumusu started a fight with Meitala and was injured. While Chanel took care of Musumusu, Musumusu and his people speared him and killed him with clubs – this tragedy took place on April 28, 1841.
Other missionaries were saved from the island several weeks later, but soon Marie-Nizier Delorme returned to complete his mission together with Catherin Servant. They also collected the information which later was crucial in the canonization of Chanel. Soon after most people on the island were Catholics – including Musumusu himself. Musumusu on his death bed wanted him buried in the front of the chapel in Poi – he hoped that visitors would walk over his grave to get into the church. Local tradition tells that he is buried in the concrete steps of a chapel built in 1890 and his descendants still live here – and some (Father Luka Musumusu) have been even saying mass here.
Chanel was canonized in 1954 by Pope Pius XII and his relics were returned to Futuna in 1977, his fractured skull was returned to the island in 1985.
In order to commemorate the outstanding personality of Chanel and to harbor the pilgrims, in 1986 there was built the enormous Basilica of St. Peter Chanel in Poi. This is imposing, enormous building with interesting architecture, characteristic for the magnificent Catholic churches in Wallis and Futuna.
The main accent of the church is its enormous, stepped tower. The church building has fine colored glass and the interior is well decorated.
Chapels and museum
The relics of Chanel are located in a smaller chapel next to the church. His bones are kept in a glass showcase. Here is marked a sport where he was killed and the original two war clubs are here too – he was killed with these weapons.
The first chapel was built here in 1844 – this was a simple building of bamboo and leaves. This site obtained fame as a location where miraculous healings take place.
In 1991 here was opened a museum devoted to Chanel – Musee Oceanien et de Saint Pierre Chanel.
- Laracy, Hugh. Saint-Making. The Case of Pierre Chanel of Futuna. New Zealand Journal of History, 34, 1 (2000).
Basilica of St. Peter Chanel in Poi on the map
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|Location, GPS coordinates:||14.2952 S 178.0927 W|
|Where is located?||Australia and Oceania, Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, eastern coast of Futuna, Poi village|
|Name in French:||Cathedrale de st. Pierre Chanel, Poi|
|Year of construction:||1986|
|Branch of Christianity:||Roman Catholic|
Wallis is middle Pleistocene volcanic island with interesting volcanic cones and crater lakes, surrounded by coral reefs. Futuna and Alofi are beautiful, mountainous islands, covered with lush tropical forests. Alofi island has especially valuable pristine ecosystem.
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