Today, the large majority of French Polynesia’s population espouses some form of Christianity. But that, of course, wasn’t always so. And on 5 March, French Polynesians remember the day in 1797 when the first Christian missionaries arrived in what is now French Polynesia.
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There are many other Gospel Day holidays in other nations and territories throughout Oceania, so this is a regional tradition as well. And the geographic isolation of the many tiny islands of the Pacific set against the sudden arrival of the Gospel as if out of nowhere shows the historical reason for having a Gospel Day as a public holiday.
Gospel Day is also called Missionary Day or Arrival of the Gospel Day in French Polynesia. Although Catholic priests from Spain visited the islands as early as 1774, a permanent mission was not established until 1797 through the efforts of the London Missionary Society. Later, the region came under French control, but the missionaries were allowed to stay. Missionaries translated the Bible into local languages and taught the people to read. They also engaged in many humanitarian efforts along with their preaching of the Good News.
Gospel Day is a time for cultural displays, concerts, special church services, and general merriment. There is also a re-enactment of the arrival of the first missionaries held on Tahiti each year at the Willy Bambridge Stadium.