Colonialism and Christianity

Document 1: Of Various Obstacles and Difficulties Encountered

Source: Reuben Twaites, ed., The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, vol. 17, (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1898), 133-143.


It seems that that passage in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke cannot be better understood than in reference to our poor barbarians, in the mention there made of those who, at the very last, were invited to the supper of the adorable Man- God to fill the places which remained empty at the banquet table, and, in fine, to supply the absence of all those who had been earlier invited. These were people whom they sought for in the lanes, among the brambles and hedges, and whom they were commissioned to bring, and compel to enter. We have not here, nor can we have, either the power of constraint or the chains of benefits, to the extent that would be necessary to render these people entirely ours. All our power lies at the end of our tongues, in the exhibition and production of our books and Writings, the effects of which they never cease to wonder at. This is the only thing that avails us with these peoples, in lieu of all other ground for credibility, — causing them to see through this means that those who have preceded us, and who have existed from the beginning of the world, have been able to impart to us a knowledge and assurance of what we are preaching to them, while they can have no proof that what their fathers have taught them was not invented by them, or by others who wished to make them believe it.

It is probable that some great gift of miracle would be quite capable of shaking some and confirming others. But, — besides that not all those who saw the miracles of the Savior of the world, and those of the Apostles, as a result thereof believed, at least with firmness and constancy, — it would seem that God may have even intended to make us see, through experience, that it was not that which he was considering, and that something else beside miracles was needed to convert Savages, as well as to convert all other classes of people.

In the extreme heat of last Summer, when the fields around the village of the Residence of la Conception were all parched with heat and drouth for want of rain, the inhabitants, being in despair, addressed themselves to our Fathers, who made a vow to say several Masses. The next day, they had no sooner begun the first one, than there began to pour down a rain, the most favorable that one could have desired, which lasted three days. There was, at the time, only admiration and thanks ; but afterward, to renounce their superstitions was something they could not resolve to do.

In the village of the Residence of Saint Joseph, one of the principal and oldest Captains, named Ondihorrea, being brought very low by sickness, at first refused our visits and our help. After having tried in vain all the usual remedies of the country for the recovery of his health, — being abandoned and, as it were, confronted by death, — he was prompted, by some sort of vision that he had, at last to listen to us, and to receive the kindness and the good offices that we would desire to render him in such an emergency, as to the one who had contributed most to our establishing ourselves in that village. Accordingly, he was instructed and baptized; and behold him immediately upon his feet, to the astonishment of all those who had a little while before despaired of his life, — to whom, as to all other persons who came to see him from all parts of the country, he never wearied recounting what had occurred, and that he owed his life entirely to the baptism he had received.

Who would not have thought that this event, happening to so important a personage, would affect, as it ought, the whole country? But, so far from any one profiting thereby, the very man to whom it had happened, who testified so much gratitude for it, after having been present once at Mass, did not return a second time, — seeing that, as a result of his profession of Christianity, he would have to leave certain diabolical fraternities, of which he was the chief, and also the functions and duties of the ministry of Satan, in his character of old and principal Captain, to whom it belongs to regulate and maintain the customs of the country.

I could produce some other like examples of the wonders it has pleased God to perform in like cases, — which, if they are not miracles, are not far from them. But this is not our object. Let that alone be said, in order to show that apparently it is not to a lack of miracles that we should attribute the delay in the general conversion of these tribes; and that there is some other thing upon which this blessing depends, which must be awaited with patience from the hand of God.

Moreover, it seems that God has also wished to make us see that it is not only in times past that he has chosen the poor and not the rich, persons of little importance in the eyes of the world, and not those who are eminent and of high rank, to be the foundation stones of his Church, but in the present time also. All the more prominent persons of the villages where we have labored to make Christians either have turned a deaf ear, or, after having embraced Christianity, have of themselves abandoned it, or have behaved in such a manner — resuming their wicked customs, and showing a desire to continue in them — that we have been obliged to advise them not to be present any more at the meetings of the Christians. We are determined sooner to see the whole undertaking reduced to naught than to suffer such an intermixture, and spots and wrinkles so enormous upon these new Brides, whom we purpose to offer to him who has shed his divine blood to give them being and life, and who has sent us here to gather the fruits thereof. This gentle severity which we have exercised towards these poor slaves of Satan has served not a little to raise the value of our mysteries and of Christianity in the minds of all those who had any knowledge of them; and it has begun to disabuse them of the belief that many have, that, when we desire and urge them to become Christians, and to make such profession, it is our interest and our business, not theirs, and that there is no profit therein for them.

After all, I do not know whether we have more reason to complain of and deplore these disasters than to rejoice over them, and to thank God for the light and courage he has given to some of this little band, — for there is not one of these three Churches in which are not found Christians, in whose practice, it would seem, nothing purer or more complete could be desired, combined with a tenderness of conscience, and a cordial recourse to confession, which were never natural to a Savage. What we have said in the preceding Chapters will suffice for this one. It is a leaven that the Holy Ghost continues to form and preserve, which will, in its time, be of service and have good results, as we hope and promise ourselves from the merciful goodness of God.

I have said nothing here, to avoid tediousness, of the difficulty these Barbarians have in abstaining from work on Sundays, — these tribes living only from hand to mouth, and finding it hard to do otherwise. Neither have I spoken of the trouble they have in observing Lent, — which always comes in the season when they return from the chase, and consequently is the only time of the year when they have a little meat, — any more than of many other difficulties which are encountered in the establishment of these new Churches, one of the most important of which is the instability of their marriages. These are difficulties which will be easily imagined, and perhaps better than I could explain them. Let us come to the chief of all their difficulties, — or, to express it better, to the source of all their misfortunes.