St. Peter Chanel

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  Chanel’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: