The missionaries wanted to make a difference to the lives of those attending the mission by helping them to live every aspect of their lives in the light of the Gospel. Today’s text looks at their concern for the girls of the village and how sexual misbehavior often led to tragic consequences for them. It was a question of how to communicate moral values within a context that was not always conducive to them. Today, after two hundred years, we may find the tenor of “publicly renouncing dances and other dangerous recreations” somewhat extraordinary but the dangers among young people were as real then as now – considering the different contexts. In poor villages where there was little entertainment apart from dances, the missionaries were trying to protect the girls from some of the dangers connected with this form of pastime.
We have made a practice in our missions of having this special meeting for girls so as to really reach out to them and convince them of the necessity of giving up dances and walking out with the young men. Experience has shown this to be the best and perhaps the only means to get them to re-think a preconception fostered by so many passions. Young girls who have not yet made their first communion are totally excluded from these meetings, for there is no beating about the bush, and the danger is exposed in the full light of day. All that happens on these abominable occasions is recalled with horror and the wicked intentions of those who have no other purpose than to seduce them are exposed. One must speak with a lot of authority and much earnestness: it is one of the most important exercises of the mission.
The girls thus received special instructions and were invited to become part of a congregation where they could help each other. During the procession in honour of the Blessed Virgin they often made their act of consecration. On the Marignane mission, despite heavy opposition, Eugene was happy with the results:
On this occasion, success was total, and never was it less expected as up till then the girls had displayed sentiments so contrary to what would be asked of them that the missionaries were beginning to be alarmed. Along with a love for dancing, which is an unrestrained passion in this part of the country, a custom or, to be more accurate, a highly-pronounced determination not to give it up, went a practically invincible prejudice against the congregation and the tiny number of girls who belonged to it, we must add as well a virulent and deeply rooted spite towards the Parish Priest. So many passions to be prevailed over, and the grace of God in his goodness won the day.
The impression made was profound; tears did not cease from flowing, and the upshot was to get all to inscribe to be received by the congregation. When the exercise was over, these girls were beside themselves with joy, and they displayed it in mutual embraces from the bottom of their heart.”
Diary of the Marignane Mission, 24 November 1816, O.W. XVI