November 15th: Sts Alfonsus Rodriguez, Roch Gonzalez and St John Del Castillo, SJ

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  • November 15th: Sts Alfonsus Rodriguez, Roch Gonzalez and St John Del Castillo, SJ

Saints Alfonsus Rodriguez, Roch Gonzalez and John Del Castillo, SJ

Born : Mar 10, 1598

Born : 1576
Died : Nov 15, 1628

Born : Sep 14, 1596
Died : Nov 17, 1628

Canonised : May 16, 1988

Saints Roch Gonzalez, Alfonsus Rodriguez and John del Castillo, the three martyrs of River Plate were called from their own country to sow the seed of God’s word in distant lands. All three died a martyr’s death in the Jesuit reductions in South America. They were canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16, 1988.

St Roch Gonzalez was born in Paraquay’s capital city of Asuncion, a descendant of early Spanish colonists. He was ordained a priest in 1599 and was very successful in evangelizing the Indians near Asuncion. And it was rumoured that the bishop, who was then residing in Buenos Aires, was planning to make him his vicar general, John avoided this appointment by entering the Society to become a Jesuit.

Fr Gonzalez was very successful in baptizing the Guaycuru, and at the same time pacified and made them civilized. He taught them how to plough, sow and tend the land, and harvest crops. He was likewise very successful in the reduction of St Ignatius and the settlement also flourished. After four years in St Ignatius he spent the next twelve years in missionary activity devoted to the founding of a series of reductions in today’s Brazil, Paraquay, Uraquay and north eastern Argentina. In 1615, he began establishing settlements and also set about constructing houses and a chapel. This became Itapua, or Our Lady of the Incarnation. He succeeded as a missionary because he was multi-talented: while being pastor of souls, he was likewise architect and mason, farmer and physician. He was also the first Jesuit to enter Uruguay where he founded the town of Concepcion in honor of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.

St Alfonsus Rodriguez was born in Zamora, Spain. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at Villagarcia in 1614 and two years later was assigned to the Spanish mission in America. He arrived at Buenos Aries and studied philosophy and theology in Cordoba prior to ordination in 1624. His companion from Spain was Fr John del Castillo. Fr Gonzalez met Fr Rodriguez in Itapua in 1628 when the young missionary asked to accompany Fr Rodriguez on his next assignment to Caaro.

St John del Castillo was born in Belmonte (Toledo), Spain, and initially decided on a career in law. He attended the University of Alcala but during his first year, realized that he had a vocation, so he entered the novitiate in Madrid in 1614. In 1616, he was on his way to the South American mission and one of his companions on this journey was Alfonsus Rodriguez. John was ordained in 1625 and was at the reduction (a settlement) of the Incarnation at Itapua in 1628 when Fr Roch Gonsalez visited it. Fr Gonsalez then took him as his associate to Iyui which he named Assumption because it was founded on August 15. Fr Gonsalez left Fr Castillo in charge of the settlement and then went on to found another settlement named All Saints at Caaro with Fr Rodriguez as his companion.

Because the three Jesuits were making noticeable progress amongst the Indians, the local witch-doctor, Nezu seeing that his influence was waning, decided that it would only be by the priests’ death, that he could regain control of his people. Hence he was determined to kill the missionaries on his territory. On the morning of November 15, 628, Fr Rodriguez went to the woods to fell a tree that was to serve as a pole on which to hang the chapel bell. He and several Indians were carrying the tree into the village when Fr Gonsalez emerged from the chapel after having celebrated Mass. Fr Rodriguez then went in to offer his Mass, but before he began, he heard unusual noises and came out to investigate. He did not see his companion’s massacred body near the bell and by the time he could ask, “What’s happening?” two of Nezu’s men attacked him and struck him on the head when he fell to the ground. He was only 30 years old. The attackers then threw both bodies into the church, destroyed the altar, and smashed the chalice before setting everything ablaze.

Fr Castillo was unaware that Frs Rodriguez and Gonsalez at All Saints were murdered by Nezu’s men on November 15 and that he was to be the next victim. On November 17, Nezu’s men entered the reduction of the Assumption and found Fr Castillo reading his breviary. When asked what he was doing, he politely answered that he was praying. The visitors surrounded him, attacked and beat him and forced him to go into the woods where they beat him to death. He was only 32. His body was set on fire and the assassins went to rob his dwelling and the chapel. Fr Castillo’s body was recovered and taken to the reduction of the Immaculate Conception, where it was interred with his fellow martyrs, Frs Gonsalez and Rodriguez.