Friars From Spain Preaching Justice

Early Dominican Friars in North America.

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 Friars from Spain Preaching Justice       


1510   First Group of Friars Arrive in the Caribbean

Three centuries after the death of St. Dominic in 1221, four friars arrived on the island of La Espanola in the Caribbean in September 1510. Having been sent by the Master of the Order of Preachers, Thomas de Vio, or Cajetan, they studied the languages and cultures of the natives. Pedro de Cordoba, wrote books for the natives in their own languages. One of these books was a pictorial catechism.

A page in Cordoba's pictorial catechism on General Confession. [Enlarged View]

1510   The Friars' Communidad Profetica

The four friars found strength for their preaching and teaching in the life of their Dominican community: their common prayer, the study which their Constitutions required to be "assiduous," and the sharing of gifts in planning for ministry. Their first bold action was to refuse the comfortable quarters provided them by the invaders. They moved into one of the native huts and soon became a "communidad profetica " in Santo Domingo, openly supporting each others' preaching in the face of daunting power and wealth. The Word of God came to life in the western hemisphere when the friars denouned the injustices of the Conquistadores against the natives. They addressed with courage the evils of inhuman treatment of the conquered people: the long hours of killing work in the mines; the suffering of children and women forced to labor under the oppressive encomendero system on the vast encomiendas of the conquerors. These evils were widespread, despite the fact that by June 1500 the Catholic Kings formally approved a policy of liberty, not slavery, for the natives.
 SOURCE: Mary Nona McGreal, O.P., ed. Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation (1786-1865), 18-19.

1511   Antonio de Montesinos

150 foot statue of Antonio de Montesinos in Santo Domingo
On the second Sunday of Advent in 1511 , Antonio de Montesinos preached a rousing sermon (see below) to which all four friars had contributed ideas and added their signatures. The listeners included soldiers, colonists and officials who represented Kind Ferdinand and the Court of Spain. For the first time they heard a deliberate public protest against the atrocities for which they themselves were responsible.

The listeners were astounded and shocked. Never before, to their knowldege, had Christians been called to truth and justice among people whom many thought to be less than human. Thus developed in this hemisphere the first significant clash between human rights and human greed. Perhaps Montesinos awakened the moral conscience of some Spanish listeners, but it was too late to undo twenty years of destructive exploitation. However, by their intense, persistent protests, the four Dominican men became the first European spokesmen to defend the rights of natives in the Americas.
 SOURCE: Mary Nona McGreal, O.P., ed. Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation (1786-1865), 19.

Montesinos In His Own Words:

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, 1511--"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness...You are in mortal sin and live and die in it because of the cruelty and tyranny that you use against these innocent peoples. Tell me, by what right, with what justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars on these peoples, in their mild and peaceful lands, where you have consumed such infinitudes of them, wereaking upon them this death and unheard-of havoc?....And what care do you take that anyone catechize them, so that they may come to know their God and Creator, be patized, hear Mass, observe Sundays and Holy Days? Are they not human beings? Have they no rational souls? Are you not obligated to love them as you love yourselves? Do you not understand this?...How is it that you sleep so soundly, so lethargically?"


  USA Dominican Life Today© 2002-2004, All Rights Reserved

  CREDITS: The timeline is based primarily on the contents of THE ORDER OF PREACHERS IN THE UNITED STATES, edited by Mary Nona McGreal O.P. and published by Editions du Signe of Strasbourg. Vol. I, Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation: 1786-1865, published in 2001, is available from PROJECT OPUS, 5082 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60644

Another source is the article by M.N.McGreal in the Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, requested by Michael Glazier and published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. The original content of the book and article has been edited and adapted into a time-line format using photos and other resources on the web.