Monday, July 5, 2010
The Fourth of July is a day to recognize and celebrate those who made our independence as a nation possible. They are the soldiers who fought to expel the British forces from the colonies. They are the politicians whose ideas and vision set up a system which would ensure our continued liberty from tyranny. And they are the ordinary citizens whose labor made our country the most prosperous in history.
Some came, however, not only to inhabit and develop this land but to evangelize it. With a burning zeal, they preached the good news to the native peoples across Canada into the frontier wilderness of America. Their efforts established missions, schools, hospitals and much of the infrastructure vital to the development of the nation. On this Fourth of July we should also remember these brave men and women many of whom gave their lives to spread the message of God’s love and who guaranteed that religion would play an important role in this country’s history.
One such man we should recognize and celebrate today is Saint Isaac Jogues. Born in France, he traveled to Canada as a missionary in 1636 with the goal of witnessing to Christ to the native peoples of Lake Superior and the Iroquois of modern day Mississippi. However, on August 3, 1642, the Indian leaders took him prisoner, tortured him cruelly and kept him as a slave for thirteen months until he was rescued by a group of Dutch Calvinists.
After his release, he returned to France and was honored as a hero of the faith for all he endured. Because his hands had been mutilated (many of his fingers had been bitten and cut off) he was unable to say Mass. Nonetheless, the pope gave him a special dispensation which allowed him to say Mass with his mutilated hands.
In 1644, he agreed to return to the new land to help the French negotiate a peace treaty with the Iroquois. To the amazement of his superiors, he begged them to allow him to stay and continue his missionary work. Impressed by his zeal, they reluctantly agreed.
In the meanwhile, sickness had spread among the native peoples causing many of them to die, and a blight struck their crops causing a famine. They blamed the return of Father Jogues as the cause of it. On October 18, 1646, he was captured by Mohawk warriors, beaten and slashed with knives. They dragged him back to the camp where he was decapitated and his head spiked onto a stake.
On June 29, 1930 he, along with several other North American martyrs, were declared saints by Pope Pius XI.
We remember with gratitude and pride those who fought to ensure the liberties and worked to earn the prosperity we enjoy today. Let us also keep in mind those who through great sacrifice ensured that we would be able to live our faith in this great land without fear. This Independence Day belongs to them too.