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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Friday, November 19, 2004  

When St. John de Brito almost died of a childhood illness, his mother vowed he would wear a Jesuit cassock for a year if he were spared. He went on to indeed become a Jesuit missionary to India, where he went native, adopting local cultural practices in his evangelization – and where, for his efforts, a raja had him beheaded by scimitar.

The Martyr of India is among the multitude of Jesuit saints and blesseds, the great number of them slain for their faith.

St. Modesto Andlauer for example, was murdered by Chinese Boxers, his head stuck on a village gate as a warning to Christians. St. Edmund Arrowsmith was convicted of being a priest, high treason in England in 1628, and hanged, drawn and quartered. What the Cossacks did to St. Andrew Bobola is ghastly to relate.

In a review of Jonathan Wright's history of the Jesuits, God's Soldiers, Montreal Gazette editor-in-chief Peter Stockland writes:

Evangelization, under the Jesuit impulse, had the modern characteristic of being equal parts education, science, politics, newfound mobility and persecution - inexhaustible persecution.

At our tag end of the modern project, it is boilerplate to blame religious faith as a primary source of humanity's cruelty. It is sobering to be reminded, as Wright reminds readers so effectively, of the centuries of inhuman torment inflicted on Jesuit missionaries and, for a time, on the Society itself. Christianity makes for a convenient cultural scapegoat, but the Jesuit martyrs are testimony to the darkness that could be found in the pre-Christian as much as the post-Christian heart.

At least the Portuguese noblewoman who bit off Francis Xavier's fifth toe in the anecdote that opens the book had the decency to wait until he was a corpse lying on a slab in Goa. Other Jesuits, as Wright details, were not so lucky. By the hundreds, if not thousands, they were tortured, hacked, burned and butchered in all corners of the globe simply for daring to proclaim their faith in the face of local or tribal hostility.

Among the most compelling sections of God's Soldiers is Wright's account of the mistreatment of the Jesuits at the hands of their own European tribes during the suppression, and ultimate liquidation, of the Society in the mid-18th century. The account reads like a macabre prefiguring of the techniques of oppression used two decades later to such hideous effect in the French Revolution and two centuries later in the totalitarian exterminations conducted by Hitlerites, Stalinists and Maoists.

Of course, the Jesuits did rise again to soldier on, much as humanity itself has done in emerging from the previous century's death camps, gulags and killing fields.

* * *

It is that time of year when the Catholic campus Peace 'n' Justice ® lobby dispatches its delegations to join Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon in protesting the School of the Americas and reprising the 1980s battle over US policy in Central America. An added note: This year marks the 15th anniversary of the deaths of The Jesuit Martyrs, the six slain by right-wing militia in El Salvador in 1989.

Those six Jesuit martyrs should indeed be remembered with honor. But across the globe more than 300 Jesuits were martyred in the 20th century alone. Shouldn't their sacrifice be remembered, too?

How many students learn of the long line of Jesuit saints and blesseds beyond the six presented by the campus-ministry liberation theologians as martyrs for the cause?

* * *

It might also be noted that El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala are now fledgling democracies, where peace accords have been signed, and free elections have been held. El Salvador even ranks above Italy on the World Press Freedom Index. The world moves on, but does the Left?

Why doesn't the Central American Peace 'n' Justice ® crowd turn its attention to totalitarian Cuba, where 26 journalists languish in prison, and where dissenters' only hope of escape is to go down to the (shark-infested) sea in rafts?

If the aim is to recall Jesuit martyrs in countries that have overcome civil strife to become democracies, why not pay tribute to the 122 Jesuits slain in the Spanish Civil War? They weren't in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, though.

Is recalling the 47 Jesuit martyrs of post-WWII Communist regimes inconvenient for the internacionalistas?


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