La Catastrophe de la Martinique: sixty-seven
Let Us at least permit, after the eminent and sympathetic Gouverneur de la Guadeloupe, the bestowing on the new necropolis of our most feeling memory. Oh, formless jumble of so many calcined corpses! Oh, equally, height of cruel irony ! ! ! Yes, We incline Ourselves towards you, the numberless disappeared, chief in honor of the Government of our sister island, officials of every service and every degree, officers of our army, soldiers full of youth, families of all ranks, obscure artisans…
But who could reproach Us for evoking most particularly the eleven Priests of the Martiniquais clergy, the fourteen Fathers of the congregation of the Holy Spirit, the thirty-three nuns of Saint-Joseph de Cluny, the twenty-eight nursing sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres, and the eight sisters of the Délivrance, who lie pell-mell in this mass of corpses? To all who are no more: peace and rest in the Lord!
But to those who remain: energy and courage!
We have wanted to offer without delay to the colony so tried, the tribute of our affection, and from the first hour, we have deputed to her two priests of generous soul and high heart: M. l’abbé Duval, our vicar general, and M. l’abbé Amieux, Archpriest of our Cathedral. The arrival of our envoys, we know it already, has quickly touched the clergy, the communities, and the families of Martinique, and both were able to speak in the beautiful cathedral of Fort-de-France, to the great consolation of the faithful, gathered from all parts. The distinguished and pious administrator who, in the absence of the venerable Mgr de Cormont, now in France, carries the weight of the Diocese, and wants himself to give Us this assurance, by a letter that breathes the sweet scent of sincerity, and that We communicate to you:
Fort-de-France, 11 May 1902
These gentlemen, whom Your Eminence has kindly willed to send me, in my misfortune, and in the midst of an entire nation’s mourning, are testimony of the regard carried to the sister island, so horribly tried, and to its poor shaken administrator; you will know better than I the story, and the scope of the immensity of the catastrophe. For me, full of appreciation for this mark of your high sympathy, I do not know how to express this to you. But I feel myself comforted before so much benevolence, and I say to myself: If the Bishops of Jesus Christ are moved before our misfortunes, it is not possible that the Chief of Bishops in heaven [Saint Peter], remains deaf to the supplications of his people who, despite his faults, return to him. Yes, he has pity on us, and we withdraw from the abyss where we are: I have for pledge your heart, Monseigneur, and the hearts of your two representatives, who have lavished on us all the marks of brotherhood, most moving and most touching.
To Your Eminence, Monseigneur, and to them, my most heartfelt gratitude and the recognition of Martinique.
Please accept, Monseigneur, the assurance of these respectful sentiments, with which I am,
To Your Eminence,
The very humble servant,
Signed: Parél, administrator
However, N. T. C. F., our task is not yet complete, since the souls that animated all these burned bodies have appeared before the Lord, and they certainly will need our prayers and our support. What use will be our sterile tears and our superfluous regrets if we do not implore for them at the same time, mercy and pardon? We will to them be far more useful if we beg of the Sovereign Master of men and things, the why of these cataclysms that confound in the same crucible the innocent and the guilty, and that could at times be disconcerting to superficial minds. Since we do not possess, that we might pronounce upon this, all the necessary elements, why recriminate and perhaps blaspheme? We have a sufficiency of knowledge that there are general laws of physics to explain certain phenomena, even certain natural upheavals; equally we have sufficient knowledge that God does nothing without reason, that His judgments are more enlightened than ours, and that future reparations will redress the contradictions and apparent injustices of the present. And so humbly we bow ourselves under the hand of the Lord, who strikes us in this world to spare us in the next.
Finally, N. T. C. F., envision with generosity and resolution the duty which, today, imposes itself on us. Plagues, it cannot be ignored, carry always after them misery and famine, and when the social and religious life of a country is profoundly troubled, she can only regain her course and her vigor with material and abundant aid. Now Martinique can no longer find this in her heart, and she addresses herself to Guadeloupe, her less unfortunate sister. Dear diocesans, you hear her weeping voice, and in the face of the immense tribulation that embraces her, you remember the largess that she lavished on you, in the hour of your own calamities; you will not content yourselves with giving the token of your superabundance. You know how to take from your own necessities, to relieve, in excess proportion, an ill that passes all proportion. We do not forget that God is all powerful, and that He cannot be disarmed, nor His reach shortened; and if you want His protection, you are more assured of it, if you recall that Christian alms are the redemption of sins, and become for the individuals, the families, and the nation, the best guaranty of the benedictions of Heaven, etc., etc.
Imagine the effect produced by this reminder of the power of God, who, “cannot be disarmed, nor his reach shortened”, on the brains of poor blacks panicked by the terrifying stories of the catastrophe.
La Catastrophe de la Martinique
(1902, Jean Hess, La Catastrophe de la Martinique; 2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)