Friars Friar Pedro de Corpa, Blas Rodríguez de Monte, Brother Miguel de Añon, Antonio de Badajoz, Father Francisco de Veráscola.  Photograph by Paul H. Camp/Southern Cross.
Friars Friar Pedro de Corpa, Blas Rodríguez de Monte, Brother Miguel de Añon, Antonio de Badajoz, Father Francisco de Veráscola. Photograph by Paul H. Camp/Southern Cross.
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Georgia Martyrs commemorated at 420th anniversary Mass

Originally Appeared in : 9723-11/9/17

Emotion briefly overcame Father Charles Byrd during his homily commemorating the 420th anniversary of the martyrdom of Friar Pedro de Corpa and his four companions on October 24.

 

Standing on the spot on St. Catherines Island where two of the friars were murdered, the pastor of Our Lady of the Mountains Parish in Jasper, Georgia, said that a sixth friar who witnessed the tragedy refused to send word to the King of Spain of what he saw.

 

The reason: Although the men died for standing up for their Christian faith, especially the sanctity of marriage, their efforts to Christianize the Guale Indians had actually been successful.

 

The king was furious. If he found out that a few Guale warriors had put the friars to death, he might order the deaths of the whole community. The eyewitness did not want to see that happen.

 

“Father (Francisco of Avila) loved the indigenous people, and they loved him, and they wanted to come back (to St. Catherines) and they did,” Father Byrd said.

 

Proof of that was found when Mission Santa Catalina de Guale was discovered in 1981 on St. Catherines, one of Georgia’s barrier islands. Underneath the church were the remains of 435 Guales who had been given Christian burials.

 

Archaeologist Dr. David Hurst Thomas discovered Georgia’s earliest church and possibly the oldest in the nation, Santa Catalina de Guale. He was in attendance at the anniversary Mass October 24 and has confirmed that the relationship between the friars and the natives was friendly.

 

Though the actual dates of the martyrdom–the other martyrs are Friars Francisco de Veráscola, Blas Rodríguez de Monte, Miguel de Añon, and Brother Antonio de Badajoz–have been fixed on and around September 14, 1597, the October 24th pilgrimage of Savannah Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., Father Byrd and 16 south Georgians was delayed a few weeks because of Hurricane Irma.

 

The pilgrimage was planned as part of an effort to promote greater awareness of the Cause of Pedro de Corpa and Companions, popularly known as the Georgia Martyrs, for beatification, which is before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Roman Curia.

 

When Bishop Hartmayer visited the Congregation and the Office for Friars Minor in Rome in 2016 he learned that the Cause is in good hands.

 

Friar Giovangiuseppe Califano, OFM, the postulator (a postulator is a person who presents a case for the canonization or beatification of someone in the Roman Catholic Church) for the Cause of the Georgia Martyrs, was previously involved in cases for the beatifications of Saints John XXIII and Junipero Serra.

 

Friar Califano said the Georgia case is moving along in Rome but even greater awareness of and devotion to the five martyrs is needed in Georgia where they ministered to the indigenous population.

 

Father Byrd is doing his part. He became interested in the story of the martyrs when he was still in seminary. 

 

When he was named pastor of his north Georgia parish in 2009, he asked his friend, artist Dan Nichols, to depict how the five Spanish friars probably looked. Father Byrd brought the resulting retablo with him to the St. Catherines Mass.

 

Talk of declaring the five men as martyrs began soon after their deaths in the 1600s. The Franciscan Order first made the request for beatification in 1936.

 

Bishop Hartmayer is the third Savannah bishop to work to promote the Cause. 

 

Bishop Raymond W. Lessard opened the Cause in the diocese in 1981 coincidentally about the time the foundation of the mission was discovered on St. Catherines. 

 

Bishop J. Kevin Boland oversaw the official preparation of the case for beatification and approved the documents which were sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican in 2007.

 

Bishop Hartmayer, a Franciscan, is working with the Holy Name Province of the Franciscans in the United States, which has been promoting the Cause since the 1950s, to expedite the process.

 

Father Byrd has devoted a page on his parish website to the martyrs. 

 

The Diocese of Savannah is creating a fresh website, prayer cards, brochures and newspaper articles highlighting the story of the men.

 

Watch the Southern Cross in print and online and the diocesan website, www.diosav.org. for updates as the Cause for beatification of the Georgia Martyrs proceeds. 

 

Watch Father Byrd's homily here. See photos from the trip here.

 

Barbara D. King is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Savannah.

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