Celebrating the martyrs of Paraguay

Three Jesuit missionaries, Roque Gonzalez, Alonozo Rodriguez and Juan de Castillo, are celebrated by the Catholic Church today. These priests who were martyred in 1620 were involved in the 'Reductions' of Paraguay, which were depicted in the 1986 film The Mission.

The Reductions were settlements of Christian Indians run by the missionaries not as conquerors but as guardians and trustees of the native people and their ancient traditions. Their opposition to Spanish colonisation, slave traders and the Inquisition led to their suppression in the 18th century. The Jesuit missionaries helped them to build settlements, community centres for the Indians where they could live together, grow in faith, learn skills, receive an education and be protected from slave raiders.

Roque was born in Asuncion in 1576 to an aristocratic family. As a native of Paraguay, he wanted to work among the native Indians. He decided to join the Jesuits so that he could do missionary work with them. He was ordained in 1599 and made vicar general in 1609. For the rest of his life he worked in the Reductions, first in that of St Ignatius, then later founding six more to the east of the Parana and Uruguay rivers. In the course of his work he suffered extreme hunger, exhaustion and insect bites. These discomforts he said were more than offset by the love and friendship of the Indian people.

In 1620 he was joined by Spaniards Alonzo and Juan. Together, they founded a new Reduction near the Ijuhu river. The three were killed by a hostile tribe between 15 and 17 of November of that year.

Although evidence was at once collected, it was lost for 200 years. When the documents were re-discovered in Argentina in the 1930s, the process for beatification began and they were canonised in 1988.