Spanish priests in the New World

Jake Page in his book, In the Hands of the Great Spirit, has a few observations on the interaction between the church and the New World. Several Spanish missionary priests made great efforts at identifying with the culture of the Native Americans. They served as intermediaries between the two cultures with little success.

For several decades, the Spanish crown had received petitions, particularly from a scholarly friar named Bartolome de Las Casas, the first priest ordained in the New World, that the colonists of the New World treat the native populations with kindness rather than hostilities. Coronado’s orders were to explore and take possession of the lands to the north, but specifically not to harm the Indians. He was met at Hawikuh by an assemblage of some two hundred Zuni warriors, who refused his demand for food and drew lines of cornmeal on the ground with dire warnings about crossing them. Coronado ordered a charge and in the ensuing melee he himself was severely wounded, but within an hour it was all over. Arrows and stones that the Zunis shot and rolled down from the terraced building were no match for the Spanish arms, and the surviving Zuni warriors fled, joining their women and children, who earlier had been secreted in the mountains. So much, then, for priestly petitions. (141)

I read about de Las Casas in Blood and Soil, see prevous blog a book series. He was a fascinating guy. At first, he was a typical European, who supported the exploitation of the Native Americans, even owning slaves. But he repented. He began to empathize with these "others." They became "neighbors," those whom Jesus said to love as we love ourselves. Here is a good short wiki article about him.

The first European to reach the O’odham was an ebullient, indefatigable man named Father Eusebio Kino, who arrived in 1687. Kino was an Italian and a Jesuit who, along with others of his order, had been missionizing the tribes south of Arizona and had developed a technique that was, in important ways, markedly different from that of the Franciscans. The Jesuits tended to arrive among a new group of Indians bringing cattle and other livestock as an immediate and tangible benefit, as well as seeds of new crops such as wheat. Handing out these gifts, they would immediately tell exciting biblical stories and demonstrate fascinating new ceremonies. The strategy was to establish a simple mission building and to encourage villages to form around the missions, converting these free-ranging people to an orderly life in service to the missionary, the church, and the crown….Father Kino arrived in the Pimeria Alta carrying an order from the viceroy of New Spain that disallowed any forced Indian labor by settlers and exempted Indians from any tribute so long as the missionary program was under way.

The Jesuits tended to make a greater effort than the Franciscans to learn the local language, and Father Kino seemed to take a delight in sitting around for days and nights, listening tot he Indian elders talk before talking himself. Kino was unique in other ways: he was something of a supersalesman. Instead of establishing a mission and staying on, Kino traveled extensively amon the O-odham, from the relatively lush region of the San Pedro River all the was west to the Colorado…The erection of new missions and the arrival of new missionaries never did catch up with Kino’s one-man sales department, however. In the 1690’s, he established a large cattle herd among the Indians in a place called Bac….but by 1711, when Father Kino died, the Indians at Bac still had an incomplete mission and no regularly visiting missionary. (153-4)

Kino had an amazing gift of evangelism and he had an organization that learned and applied what resonated with the target culture.

See other posts on missionaries, the church, native Americans, history, and book reports.


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