Fr. Dan White, S.J.
October 16, 2016
This Wednesday is the feast of the Jesuit martyrs of North America. There is a large window dedicated to them in the church’s south transept. Six Jesuits and two laymen were killed in the mid-17th century in what is now Canada and upstate New York. They had come to New France to evangelize the Native Americans, but found themselves in the middle of conflict between the Huron and Iroquois.
Though a coincidence, it is worth noting how close their feast is to Columbus Day. The Jesuit martyrs were part of the vast, complex encounter that took place between the newly arrived Europeans and the native peoples. Some argue, more than 500 years on, the encounter continues.
We realize a sanitized history of triumph is no longer acceptable. We are aware of the tragic dimension that came with the spread of Christianity. The inclusion of the perspective and experience of Native Americans has changed everything. John Paul II in his visits to North America led the Church in asking forgiveness for our actions. Pope Francis has championed the rights of indigenous peoples throughout the world.
Many of the aspects of the encounter so long ago have continuing relevance for us: how do we respect other cultures? How can we dialogue with other faiths? More than ever we know the Gospel is intimately tied to the example of the messenger. We continue to struggle with how the Good News is incarnated in a diverse and changing world.