Canonisation of the Holy Martyrs of Natal, Brazil and Tlaxcala, Mexico

CANONISATION ON SUNDAY, OCTOBER 15TH, 2017

The Holy Martyrs of Natal, Brazil and Tlaxcala, Mexico

 

The OFM General Postulator was given the task of preparing two special Positiones during 2015 and 2016. The first was for the canonisation of the Blessed André de Soveral, Bl. Ambrosio Francisco Ferro, Bl. Mateus Moreira and their 27 lay companions, protomartyrs of Brazil. The second was for the canonisation of the youths Blessed Cristóbal, Bl. Antonio and Bl. Juan, protomartyrs of Mexico. The favourable decision regarding the canonisation of the two groups of Blesseds was made during an ordinary session on March 14th, 2017, by the Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A number of factors led to their decision including the joint request from the Episcopal Conferences of Mexico and Brazil; the spread of devotion to the Blesseds and the evidence of graces and favours obtained through their intercession; the pastoral importance of devotion to the martyrs; and the contemporary relevance of their message. Subsequently, on March 28th, 2017, the Holy Father authorised the publication of this Decision and then, during a consistory held on April 20th, 2017, fixed the date of the solemn Canonisation.

 

Blessed André de Soveral and Bl. Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, diocesan priests, Bl. Mateus Moreira and 27 Lay Companions

 

These Blessed martyrs met their deaths during the wars of religion which resulted in huge bloodshed in Europe and its colonies during the 16th and 17th centuries. They gave their lives in faithfulness to Catholicism and to the Roman Pontiff, and were victims of hatred and persecution of one set of Christians by another set of Christians, divided by doctrinal differences.

The evangelisation of Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil) began in 1597, and was led by Jesuit missionaries and diocesan priests from the Catholic Kingdom of Portugal. In the decades following, the arrival of Dutch Calvinists had the effect of restrictions being placed on the religious liberty of Catholics, and the emergence of persecution against them. The 30 martyrs were killed in two separate incidents. The first took place in Cunhaú on July 16th, 1645, at the Chapel of Our Lady of Candles; as the pastor, André de Soveral, celebrated Sunday Mass, a troop of Dutch soldiers accompanied by indigenous people, stormed the holy place and massacred the defenceless faithful. The second happened on October 3rd, 1645. The Catholics of Natal, terrified by what had happened previously, sought safety in improvised refuges, but in vain. They were taken prisoner along with their pastor, Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, and brought to Uruaçu where Dutch soldiers and about 200 indigenous people awaited them, all full of an aversion to Catholics. The faithful and their pastor were treated in a horrendous fashion and allowed to die following terrible mutilations.

Only thirty of the faithful could be identified with certainty, and their names are those proposed for canonisation. These are: Fr. André de Soveral, pastor and Domingo Carvalho, layman, killed in Cunhaú; Fr. Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, pastor, Mateus Moreira, Antônio Vilela Junior and his daughter, José do Porto, Francisco de Bastos, Diogo Pereira, João Lostão Navarro, Antônio Vilela Cid, Estêvão Machado de Miranda and two daughters, Vicente de Souza Pereira, Francisco Mendes Pereira, João da Silveira, Simão Correia, Antônio Baracho, João Martins and seven companions, Manuel Rodrigues Moura and his wife, a daughter of Francisco Dias Junior, killed in Uruaçu.

The memory of their martyrdom has been preserved in an uninterrupted tradition up to this day. However, since the beginning of the 20th century, understanding of the religious motivation for the killing of the Martyrs of Rio Grande do Norte has deepened, and practical steps for instructing the Process of Beatification began in earnest in 1989. During the celebration of the Jubilee Year in 2000, St. John Paul II then proceeded to the Solemn Beatification of the martyrs of Rio Grande do Norte, Protomartyrs of Brazil.

 

 

Blessed Martyrs Cristóbal, Antonio e Juan, Adolescents (1527-1529)

 

The blessed Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, martyrs for the Christian faith, are considered by historians the Protomartyrs of Mexico and of the whole American continent, first fruits of evangelization of the new world. Their death is placed in the years 1527-1529, before the Marian event of Guadalupe (1531), when they were still very young. Their biographical information is scarce, but common to all three was a solid Christian education received from the early Franciscan Missionaries who along with Dominicans in 1524 set foot in Mexico, then called New Spain. The missionaries were interested in undertaking an extensive and solid evangelization and the promotion of human and religious formation among the native population, trying first to eliminate beliefs, superstitions and tribal rites in stark contrast with Christian faith and practice. In fact, they wanted to preserve the population from the most negative expression of idolatrous rituals, which unfortunately included human sacrifices as well as violent and immoral behavior.

The first of the blessed martyrs was Cristóbal, also called with the diminutive “Cristobalito”; He was born in Atlihuetzía (Tlaxcala) between 1514 and 1515 and was the favorite son and heir of the main Cacique Acxotecatl. He readily followed the example of his three brothers, who in 1524 had been schooled by the Friars Minor. Cristóbal received instruction in the Christian faith, and spontaneously requested baptism. In a short time he became an apostle for the Gospel among his relatives and acquaintances. Indeed, set out to convert his father urging him to change his habits, especially his drunkenness. His father ignored his pleas and Cristobal began break the idols present in his home. Unfortunately the pagan faith of his father was superior to its parental affection; so in a fit of rage he cruelly beat his son to a pulp. In his pain Cristóbal continued to pray, and his father threw him into a lit pyre. The father then secretly buried her son. The martyrdom occurred in 1527, when Cristóbal was only 13 years old.

Antonio and Juan were born between 1516 and 1517 in Tizatlán (Tlaxcala), Antonio was grandson and heir of the local Caciques, while Juan, of humble condition, was his servant: both attended the school of the Friars Minor. In 1529 the Dominican missionaries decided to establish a mission in Oaxaca; Consequently, passing through Tlaxcala the Dominican Friar Bernardino Minaya, asked Friar Martin of Valencia, Franciscan Director of the school, to point out some young men who might volunteer to accompany him as interpreters at the Natives. Meeting the school boys, Friar Martin asked who was available for such a task, warning however that it was a life threatening and dangerous task; immediately the thirteen-year-old boys Antonio and Juan came forth together with another noble young man named Diego (who did not die a martyr). The group arrived in Tepeaca and the youth helped the missionaries collect idols. In one occasion some Natives, enraged and armed with canes, approached and beat Juan to death as well as Antonio who rushed to his aid.

The historical fact of the murder of the three young men Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, was immediately after their death, regarded as a martyrdom, that is it was done out of hatred for the faith. This conviction, supported by documentary evidence was kept alive over the centuries allowing for their beatification by St. Pope John Paul II on 6 May 1990 in the shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.