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St. Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz

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Feastday: November 17
Birth: 1576
Death: 1628
Canonized By: Pope John Paul II

The earliest beatified martyrs of America are three Jesuits of Paraguay, and one of them was American-born.

Roque Gonzalez y de Santa-Cruz was the son of noble Spanish parents, and he came into this world at Asuncion, the capitol of Paraguay, in 1576. He was an unusually good and religious boy, and everybody took it for granted that young Roque would become a priest. He was in fact ordained, when he was twenty-three: but unwillingly, for he felt very strongly that he was unworthy of the priesthood. At once he began to take an interest in the Indians of Paraguay, seeking them out in remote places to preach to and instruct them in Christianity; and after ten years, to avoid ecclesiastical promotion and to get more opportunity for missionary work, he joined the Society of Jesus.

These were the days of the beginnings of the famous "reductions" of Paraguay, in the formation of which Father Roque Gonzalez played an important part. These remarkable institutions were settlements of Christian Indians run by the Jesuit missionaries, who looked on themselves, not like so many other Spaniards did as the conquerors and "bosses" of the Indians, but as the guardians and trustees of their welfare.

It was to bring about such a happy state of things that Father Roque labored for nearly twenty years, grappling patiently and without discouragement with hardships, dangers and reverses of all kinds, with intractable and fierce tribes and with the opposition of the European colonists. He threw himself heart and soul into the work. For three years he was in charge of the Reduction of St. Ignatius, the first of them, and then spent the rest of his life establishing others reductions, half a dozen in all, east of the Parana and Uruguay rivers; he was the first European known to have penetrated into some districts of South America.

In 1628, Father Roque was joined by two young Spanish Jesuits, Alonso (Alphonsus) Rodriguez and Juan (John)de Castillo, and together they founded a new reduction near the Ijuhi river, dedicated in honor of Our Lady's Assumption. Father Castillo was left in charge there, while the other two pushed on to Caaro (in the southern tip of what is now Brazil), where they established the All Saints' Reduction.

Here they were faced with the hostility of a powerful "medicine man", and at his instigation the Mission was soon attacked. Father Roque was getting ready to hang a small church bell when the raiding party arrived; one man stole up from behind and killed him with blows on the head from a tomahawk. Father Rodriguez heard the noise and, coming to the door of his hut to see what it was about, met the bloodstained savages who knocked him down. "What are you doing, my sons?" he exclaimed. But he was silenced by further blows. The wooden chapel was set on fire and the two bodies thrown into the flames. It was November 15, 1628. Two days later the Mission at Ijuhi was attacked; Father Castillo was seized and bound, barbarously beaten, and stoned to death.

The first steps toward the beatification of these missionaries were taken within six months of their martyrdom, by the writing down of evidence about what had happened. But these precious documents were lost. Then copies of the originals turned up in the Argentine, and in 1934, Rogue Gonzalez, Alonso Rodrigues and Juan de Castillo were solemnly declared Blessed. They were canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. Their feast day is November 17th.


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