Georgia Martyrs: Missionary zeal for souls

Originally Appeared in : 9820-9/27/18

Read in Spanish.

Religious fervor erupted in Spain in 1492 when the Spanish Kingdoms were united under the Catholics monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, the last Muslim caliphate of Granada was defeated leading to the expulsion of the Moors after 800 years of conquest, and Christopher Columbus claimed a whole new continent for the crown.  Fifteenth-century Spaniards undoubtedly saw the hand of God at work in these significant events.  As the reconquest of Spain concluded and reestablished Christianity in the whole peninsula after centuries, they firmly believed God had provided new lands to conquer and new peoples to evangelize.


This religious fervor prompted countless men and women to be willing leave everything behind to spread the Gospel in distant lands.  For centuries, Spain provided missionaries to serve throughout the globe, including all the priests at my local childhood parish in Peru.  Among the fifteenth-century missionaries was Friar Pedro de Corpa, ordained in 1584 in Castille, Spain, he volunteered in 1587 along with eleven friars to evangelize the New World in the Province of La Florida.  The friars first traveled to La Havana, Cuba, and then continued on a six day journey to Saint Augustine, Florida.  Friar Pedro worked at a mission near Saint Augustine until twelve more friars arrived, freeing him and others to evangelize farther north.  It is unknown when exactly he arrived to the Mission of Tolomato (located north of present day Darien, Georgia), but his assignment there was significant since it was the main city of the Guale people, and its chief was considered the principal leader of the Guale.  


Historians recount that the friars sent to the approximately 3,000 Guale came in peace and willing to accommodate.  The friars respected traditional power hierarchies and made cultural allowances in the practice of the faith.  The barefoot missionaries to the Guale were sent without soldiers, and were welcomed by the natives.  


A poem written by Friar Alonso Escobedo in the early 1600s described Friar Pedro emphasizing his life of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Escobedo wrote: “I and the people who accompanied him to the land where we lived together are witnesses of his sanctity. Poverty was his favorite virtue. He admired the chaste and holy angelic choir and he was submissive to his bishop or superior, always demonstrating his obedience by quickly obeying all orders. Being a wise and holy man, the love of God burned in his heart, and by means of prayer, abstinence and self-discipline he gave good example to the Indians of the West (New World) whom he strove to convert.”


This last September 14th marked the 421st anniversary of the martyrdom of Friar Pedro de Corpa and his four companion friars Blas, Miguel, Antonio, and Francisco.  These men died during their mission to the Guale of Coastal Georgia as martyrs for defending the Church’s teaching on marriage when a baptized native chief wished to take a second wife.  As the Diocese of Savannah advances the cause for their beatification, we remember their heroic virtue and courage in defending the faith.  We remember and hope to imitate their zeal for souls.  We admire the detachment they demonstrated by leaving behind everything that was familiar in the Old World for the sake of the Gospel.  We pray that the sacrifice of self these friars offered may be officially recognized by the Church and we may called them blessed among the saints.


Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah and resides in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah.

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