Papeete (Agenzia Fides) – Every month during the Year for Priests, Papeete's diocesan newspaper “Le Semeur Tahitien” asks the faithful to rediscover the figure of a priest or a Bishop who has marked the history of Catholicism in Oceania and specifically, in Papeete, thinking in the missionaries that have dedicated their lives to the evangelization of the old Apostolic Vicariate of Tahiti. This is what Archbishop Hubert Coppenrath of Papeete said in his Pastoral Letter for the Opening of the Year for Priests (see Fides 30/7/2009). After presenting Monsignor Michel Coppenrath and Saint Damien de Veuster, the last issue of the diocesan newspaper presented the biography of the first missionaries to reach Mangareva: Fr. Honore Laval and Fr. Francois d’Assise Caret, Sacred Hearts Fathers who are considered the founders of the mission in Tahiti.
Fr. Laval, born in 1808 in Saint Leger (Eure-et-Loir) dedicated 36 years of his life in service to God and the inhabitants of Mangareva. Shortly after his ordination, he left France for Oceania, along with Fr. Francois d’Assise Caret and Br. Murphy. The first contact with the local people was met with mutual mistrust, and the leader of Mangareva denied them permission to live on the land. Finally, a mother-of-pearl fisherman in Aukena welcomed the missionaries and thus, they began their work of evangelization. There were many fruits, with hundreds of baptisms, including the baptism of King Maputeoa on August 25, 1836. Fr. Laval placed an end to the pagan practices and established a discipline that some defined as too strict, although his aim was to safeguard that people whom he so loved from any negative influences. After a failed attempt to establish a mission on Tahiti, along with Fr. Caret, and amidst other sufferings, from 1849-1851, Fr. Laval was sent to the Islands of Tuamotu, where there were numerous baptisms shortly after his arrival. Returning to the Gambier Islands, Fr. Laval continued his work of evangelization. Falsely accused of having taken advantage of the inhabitants of Mangareva who profoundly loved Fr. Laval, he was forced to leave the mission. He died on November 1, 1890 and was buried in Papeete.
Fr. Francois d'Assise Caret was born in 1802 in Miniac-sous-Becherel. Shortly after his priestly ordination in 1826, he worked in assisting the terminally ill. He took his vows in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, and in 1834 set off with Fr. Laval and Br. Murphy to Polynesia, where he would spend 12 years. The first two years he dedicated to education, evangelization, and baptizing the inhabitants of the Gambier Islands. Then, on November 6, 1836, he was sent to Tahiti with Fr. Laval where they tried to establish a mission, but were unable to. After a second failed attempt, in January 1837, Fr. Caret returned to France, where he spoke on numerous occasions of the customs of the inhabitants of the Gambier Islands. He went to Rome, where he met with Pope Gregory XVI, whom he presented with shells and a statue. Returning to Mangareva on December 20, 1838, with several gifts from the Pope, the following year he began missions on the Marquis Islands, unfortunately without success. Fr. Caret later fell victim to a pulmonary disease and was forced to return to Mangareva. He died on October 26, 1844, at only 42 years of age. (SL) (Agenzia Fides 28/10/2009)