Tag Archives: Native Peoples

Native Peoples, Colonists and Missionaries

H.Hudson halfmoon

For the injustices against the native peoples and the land God provided here.“Lord, have mercy.”

For the brave missionaries that ministered to them. “Thanks be to God.”

The native peoples are often forgotten in the story of the “discovery” of America. Our heroes tend to be the settlers who came on ships, built towns and cities, explored the land and gave us what we have today. But it came at a price.

If you ever visit New York harbor by way of the Staten Island Ferry look at the  shores now crowded by the buildings and piers of today.  Once  native peoples fished, hunted and traded in large numbers here. The water was fresher then, fish and shellfish plentiful, the air cleaner, the earth less damaged by human activity.

The National Museum of the American Indian is located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry. It’s a good place to remember the native peoples in the story of America. The Europeans traded with them; they were their guides into an unknown land; they provided many of the foods that fed growing populations in Europe and America. Their respect for the land was greater than those who came after them.

A young Indian woman, Kateri Tekakwitha and a Jesuit priest, Isaac Jogues, are figures to remember here in the customs house. They represent the clash of civilizations that occurred when Europeans and native peoples met. Across the street from the customs house is the statue of Christopher Columbus.

Europeans brought disease.  Smallpox  disfigured and partially blinded Kateri Tekakwitha, a young Mohawk woman who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, NY. The native peoples had no immunity to small pox and other diseases. Three out of ten died from it. By some estimates 5 million native people lived in North America when the first Europeans arrived. Within a hundred years there were only 500,000. Besides disease, the major cause of their diminishment, the native peoples also suffered from wars and greed.
Museum of American Indian

At the museum, besides Kateri Tekakwitha remember Father Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary who, while attempting to advance peace-keeping efforts with the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville) was killed by a war party on October 18, 1646. Previously, in 1642  Jogues had been captured by this same tribe. He escaped in 1643, fled here to New Amsterdam (New York City) and then was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister.

 

The French missionaries came to the New World out of the turmoils of the Old World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples here, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of  foreigners and the seed of the gospel fell on hard ground.

Letters back to France from the early Jesuits–marvelously preserved in “The Jesuit Relations”–often express the missionaries’ disappointment  over their scarce harvest, but it didn’t stop them. They were well grounded in the mystery of the Cross.

 “My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.” St. John de Brebéuf

The Indian woman and the priest persevered. We forget how difficult it is when civilizations clash– like now. We remember the Christian missionaries: Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests and their compassions on October 19th..

Columbus, Central Park, NYC
Indian behind symbols of European trade and expansion: Customs House, New York City

Here’s a video on the Jesuit Martyrs at Auriesville

https://youtu.be/anTHAaee59A

21st Sunday C: “Will Only A Few Be Saved?”

To listen to today’s homily please select the audio file below:

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” someone asks Jesus on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, described in Luke’s gospel, our Mass reading today. He doesn’t answer the question, but instead tells his listeners to respond immediately to God’s call when they hear it.

Why was the question asked anyway, you wonder? Was it because the response wasn’t great when Jesus made his way to Jerusalem? In our first reading Isaiah predicts people from all nations will flock to Jerusalem when the Messiah comes. Were those who followed Jesus few in number then?

Will the response to Jesus sometimes be the same?

The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem never ends, we believe. It goes on through time as Christian missionaries go through other towns, places, even continents. It took place when European explorers, settlers and missionaries brought faith in Jesus Christ to peoples in North America who never knew him.

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Early Christian missionaries may have asked that as they reviewed their attempts to evangelize the native peoples of North America. Historians estimate about 50 million Indians lived in North America before the arrival of Europeans. A hundred years later, only 10 percent survived, mainly because of diseases brought by the newcomers. In a hundred or so years, as European settlers increased in number, most of the native tribes in eastern North America were forced westward or destroyed by war or small pox brought by the Europeans.

H.Hudson halfmoon

Coming to the new world, Catholic missionaries like the Jesuits and Franciscans hoped, not only to convert the native peoples to Christianity, but some thought they might create a fresh, vibrant Christian civilization, without the ancient antagonisms and rivalries of Europe. They looked for new Pentecost, but it did not seem to come.

Their harvest wasn’t great. The two civilizations were very different. The sense of superiority the Europeans brought, colonialism, and the diseases that decimated the native population made the native peoples question Christianity. It seemed to be a faith that brought death not life.

I hope to visit soon the National Museum of the American Indian, located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry in New York City, a good place to remember the native peoples in the story of America. They were the first the Europeans traded with; they were their guides into an unknown land. The native peoples provided new foods for growing populations in Africa, Europe and America. They had a greater respect for the land than those who came after them. Their story is now largely forgotten.

At the museum I’ll remember St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a native American who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, New York. She offers an insight into the culture and social world of the native peoples. Smallpox brought by the Europeans disfigured and partially blinded her. Other diseases like tuberculosis, measles and malaria brought death to large numbers of native peoples, who were diminished further by wars and greed for Indian lands.

She came to believe in Jesus Christ.KATERI

At the museum I’ll also remember Father Isaac Jogues, the fearless Jesuit missionary, who was eventually killed by the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville), past Albany on the Mohawk River. A strong faith in Christ brought him to the New World where he experienced the clash of cultures as Christianity entered a native American world. Fleeing from Indian captivity, he came here to New Amsterdam (New York) in 1643 and was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister. A few years later, he returned still eager to bring the Christian faith to the native peoples, but was killed in 1646.

He wanted them to know Jesus Christ.

What do these old examples say about our mission today as disciples of Jesus to make him known? “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” Jesus says. (Matthew 28,16-20) What does that mean today?

Some today tell us to think more positively of cultures like that of the American native peoples. Some say Christians should simply be present in these cultures and silently profess their faith and work for the common good. Some even say we should not evangelize at all.

Certainly, the Spirit of God has been active in humanity from the beginning and we have missed God’s gifts in cultures and religions not our own. The church today recognizes the good in other religions “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions” (Nostra Aetate, 2) . Still, it regards them as a “preparation for the gospel.” (Lumen gentium 16)

“The church is missionary by her very nature.” (Ad gentes 2) She is called to both dialogue respectfully, work for the common good and proclaim her belief.

We’re not only speaking of other cultures and religions, of course.  What about our own culture, which is becoming increasingly resistant to Christian belief? How do we dialogue respectfully and proclaim our belief to our own, our young people, those who are drifting away?

“Lord, will only a few be saved?”