Rome. The prediction of a native prophetess of the Gambier Islands, who at the beginning of the 19th century announced the coming of Catholic priests was recalled at the recent celebrations in the Vicariate of Tahiti commemorating the arrival of the first two missionaries. Father Caret and Laval, of the Picpus Society, reached Gambier August 7, 1834.
The people of the islands had been cannibals and were notorious for their cruel savage habits. Before their battles, which were frequent, the pagan priest invoked the idols with a prayer like this: "O Protecting Deities deliver into our hands the eyes of our enemies that we may fill our stomachs." If they were victorious they dug long pits on the battle field in which the vanquished dead were roasted.
The end of these practices was foretold by the soothsayer. "Let us destroy our idols," she said, "let us prepare the way for the true God. He will come to us from that part of the earth which is under our feet. His two servants will be shod and their raiment will be white. They will land at Tokani facing the mountain where I shall be buried." Two years after the death of the old diviner the missionaries arrived at the very spot and in the exact manner predicted. After three years the people had become quiet, peaceful, pure of morals and industrious. Today all the inhabitants of the Gambier archipelago are Catholics. Boxers will remember that it was from here that Battling Sito came, who fought Carpentier some fourteen years ago.
Next year will be the centenary of another interesting event in the Church history of the southern Pacific, the arrival of t he first missionaries in Australia. The Vicariate of New Holland and Van Diemen Land was created May 17, 1834, and the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Polding, with two priests and three subdeacons reached Sydney September 12, 1835, to take charge of a territory which in area almost equalled the United States. Catholics at that time numbered 18,000, and were found in the British penal colonies, among the freed convicts and among the European colonists; there was a small group of Catholic natives.
There were 200,000 natives in the country at that time, but because of the scarcity of priests no missionary work was attempted among them until the arrival of the Italian Passionists in 1840 and the Spanish Benedictines in 1846. Contact with Europeans has been the cause of a vast decrease of the aboriginal population, Australian natives now being reduced to a meagre 60,000. The last Tasmanian died in 1876.
The white population has developed however. The Catholic body has grown from 18,000 to 240,000, and instead of the handful of Priests of a century ago, there are today 1,200 secular and 600 religious priests, 1,100 brothers and 9,300 sisters.
Other centenaries will be observed during the next two years. In 1836 the Vicariate of Central Oceania was erected, and the first missionaries to the islands of Wallis and Futuna arrived in 1837. The native clergy in this territory outnumbers the foreign missionary personnel. (Fides)
- Malaya Catholic Leader, February 2nd, 1935 (1935.pdf pp48)