IT is the stones and clubs, the engines of martyrdom, that transform in the protomartyrs into the Living Bread, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said on the feast of St Stephen and protomartyr of Oceania, St Peter Chanel.
“Today we hear from Scripture of bread and stones,” Archbishop Coleridge said at the 8am Mass livestreamed from St Stephen’s Cathedral.
“Jesus says, extraordinarily, ‘I am the Bread of Life’ and Stephen is stoned; and there he stands, in the window of this cathedral that bears his name; and on the archdiocesan crest there are the two stones representing the stones that killed Stephen, made him a martyr.
“The first of all the Christian martyrs and yet when you look at those stones on the archdiocesan coat of arms they could – for all the world – be loaves of bread, and this is the mysterious and magnificent confusion of this moment, this day, when we celebrate not only Stephen in his Cathedral but Peter Chanel.
“Peter Chanel, the first martyr of this part of the world – the protomartyr of Oceania.”
St Peter Chanel was born in 1803 at Clet in the diocese of Belley, France.
After his ordination and revitalising a local parish, he joined the Society of Mary, the Marists, which was newly formed at the time to become a missionary.
Eventually he left for New Hebrides in the Pacific to evangelise the population, and he was made superior of a band of missionaries there.
After a ten-month journey there, the band split up and St Peter went to the Island of Futuna accompanied by a laybrother and an English layman, Thomas Boog.
At first, they were well received by a pagan people who had only recently forbidden cannibalism.
The king of the people became jealous of the missionaries’ affections from the people and saw them as a threat to his power.
When the king’s son said he wanted to be baptised, the king erupted and ordered his warriors to kill St Peter Chanel.
He was clubbed to death and in five months, the whole island was converted to Christianity.
“The thing is that Stephen in his martyrdom, in his stoning, becomes bread,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“The stones make him the Living Bread.
“He becomes Christ and even the words he speaks as he dies echo the words spoken in Luke’s Gospel by the dying Jesus, ‘Lord receive my spirit; do not hold this sin against them.’
“These are very like the words that Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel, so Stephen becomes Jesus.
“The stones turn him into the Living Bread, which comes down from heaven, and we still feed from the Living Bread of Stephen’s witness, his martyrdom, here in this Cathedral and this archdiocese.
“So too Peter Chanel, his mission in many ways seen from various angles was a failure but once he died all the people among whom he worked became Catholic, and they ended up speaking French, just by the way; so Peter Chanel – like Stephen becomes living bread.
“He wasn’t stoned to death, he was clubbed to death, but the club that kills Peter Chanel also turns him into the Living Bread.
“So we look at these two first martyrs Stephen and Peter and we see in them the face and the figure, the presence and the power of the risen Christ.”