Bearers of the Gospel: PREVIOUS FRANCISCAN ACTIVITY IN THE NEW WORLD

Missionary Life and Martyrdom


The early missionaries to the Americas were endowed with an interesting combination of mysticism, evangelical idealism and readiness for martyrdom.


Fray Jerónimo de Mendieta, the frequently cited Franciscan chronicler of 16th century Mexico, just a few years before the martyrdom of Fray Pedro de Corpa and his companions in the mission of La Florida, composed his Historia Eclesiástica. The work includes what is unquestionably one of the finest succinct essays on the meaning of martyrdom in the story of a mission. In a brief introduction to the second part of the fifth book of his chronicle, wherein he presents short biographies of the friars who died at the hands of non-Christian Indians, he affirms that the most important contribution for a missionary must be to sacrifice his life for the others. Citing the words of Our Lord, "There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn. 15.13), he concludes: "el martirio es la obra de mayor amor de Dios que puede ser, y es acto perfectísimo y el mayor servicio que a Dios podemos hacer. "22

There are many ways of suffering martyrdom, Mendieta goes on to demonstrate. In fact, one can suffer martyrdom without dying, as the man of virtue does, because “if a Christian lives according to the Gospel, his life is a cross and a martyrdom." A true missionary, living in voluntary poverty, traveling barefoot, nourishing himself with insipid food and in small quantities, persecuted by the allies of the infernal demon, is indeed a martyr.

Martyrdom in its fullest sense is the grace bestowed on those who give their life in testimony to their faith in Jesus Christ and His teachings. Interestingly, Mendieta is convinced that the Indians of northern New Spain – among whom must be included the Guales of La Florida – are playing an important role in God's design to crown the missionaries with the aureola of martyrdom. Mendieta did not live long enough to learn of the death of Fray Pedro de Corpa and his Companions. But Fray Juan de Torquemada, almost contemporary to Mendieta and his continuator as the chronicler of the Franciscans of Mexico, did know of their sacrifice. And he did not hesitate to assess their death as a witness to their faith in Christ.23

Mendieta, Lib. V, 2a parte, cap. I.

Fray Juan de Torquemada, Monarchia 1ndiana, 2nd ed. (Madrid: Nicolás Rodriguez, 1723), Lib. XIX, cap. 20.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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