Eight French Jesuit missionaries came to North America in the 17th century, amidst the hardships of sickness and extreme poverty, to bring the Word of God to the native Indians. They endured many horrific tortures and death in order to accomplish what they had set out to do.
In 1625, St. John de Brebuf, at age 32, entered into the Huron tribe in the harsh frontier of Canada. John had tuberculosis, but the climate so agreed with him that the Hurons, surprised at his endurance, called him Echon, which meant load bearer. John was tortured and martyred in 1649. The Indians, hoping to gain the incredible strength he had, drank his blood.
St. Isaac Jogues was sent to Canada in 1636, where he worked among the Mowhawks. He was taken captive by the Iroquois in 1642 and imprisoned for thirteen months, where he was kept as a slave and beaten by the women of the tribe. While in captivity, Father Jogues secretly taught and baptized the other captives and slaves of the tribe.
His greatest sorrow was the torture that cost him the use of his hands. The law of the Church is that whatever other infirmities a priest may have, he must retain the use of his hands in order to celebrate the Eucharist.
After more than a year with the Iroquois, he was rescued by Dutch settlers and returned to France. There he obtained a dispensation to continue as a priest, despite the injuries to his hands, and eagerly returned to the New World to resume his duties. When he returned to Quebec, he was tortured, decapitated, and martyred by the Iroquois tribe.
In our society today, we seldom see “red martyrs” — those who shed their blood in order to preach the Word of God. However, there are many opportunities for “white martyrdom” — to suffer persecution and ridicule — from those we encounter on a daily basis for standing up for our beliefs and preaching the Gospel message. When we preach the message of life, we encounter resistance from a society that embraces a “culture of death” — a society that promotes abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, same sex unions, and cloning. When we preach the gospel message, we are often attacked by those who believe the lies that promote a culture obsessed with materialism, egotism, and addictions. When Christ’s message is not preached, darkness, depression, and death prevail.
As pro-life Christians, we would need to follow the example of the North American martyrs, accepting all the graces and strength we receive through the power of prayer, the Holy Mass, and the sacraments, so that we, too, will overcome our human weaknesses, and boldly speak the truth, regardless of the consequences, so that all men will be freed from the darkness of death and come to know the Light of life — the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
To learn more about these martyrs, go here and here. Fr. Hardon’s article on the spirituality of the North American Martyrs is here.