Peter Chanel was a French missionary priest, martyred on the Island of Wallis and Futuna, whose body lay in state in the chapel of Villa Maria in Sydney for two weeks en route to France. As the "proto martyr of Oceania" it is fitting that he is patron of the first WYD held in Oceania, inspiring others to be Jesus' "witnesses to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Peter Chanel was born on July 12, 1803 in Cuet, France. As a boy his piety and intelligence attracted the attention of the local priest in Cuet, and he was put into a Church-sponsored education program after which he began training in the seminary and was ordained in 1827. In 1831 Peter joined the Marists, who were entrusted with the evangelization of Oceania. Peter served as a professor at the Seminary of Belley for five years and in 1836 was made the superior of a band of Marist missionaries headed for the South West Pacific. They set out on December 24, 1836, accompanied by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier who was to become the first bishop of New Zealand.Peter was sent to the islands of Futuna and Wallis. On arrival, he found that war between rival tribes and the practice of cannibalism had reduced the islands' population to a few thousand and those that remained were deeply engrossed in a religion that involved the worship of terror, offered to evil deities.
Peter labored faithfully, learning the native language, attending the sick, baptizing the dying, and winning from all around him the reputation of one with a kind heart. Peter's message of kindness and display of unconditional love in the work with the natives was initially well-received by the King Niuliki, however resentment grew. King Niuliki believed Christianity threatened his rights as high priest and stealing the natives from the idol deities.
At daybreak on April 28, 1841, Peter was beaten and tortured by the King's favored warrior Musumusu and a group of chiefs, who had hatched their own plan to put an end to his influence. Peter eventually died from a fatal axe wound to the head. His body was taken back to France and Rome via New Zealand and Australia, where it rested at Villa Maria in Sydney for two weeks.
Peter was declared a martyr and beatified in 1889. Pope Pius XII canonized him in 1954. Within a few years of Saint Peter Chanelâ€™s death, most of the island of Futuna had converted to Catholicism.St Peter Chanel exemplifies a life of the Spirit's gifts of courage and fruit of kindness required of all young people, but especially young priests. As you have come with the power of the Holy Spirit as witnesses to Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, you can pray for zeal and wisdom to play your part in the new evangelization.Saint Peter Chanel, Pacific witness to the faith unto death - pray for us.
The original article can be found at World Youth Day Sydney 2008: