Defender of the indigenous in the Americas

Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Dominican friar, bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, protector of Indians, died on July 18, 1566, in Spain where he was advocate for the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

He had come to the Americas as an adventurer and, though a priest, participated in the encomienda system in Cuba, where he had indigenous as his fiefs. But a conversion led him to renounce the privileges, to join the Dominicans, and to begin to advocate for the rights of the indigenous people.

He was appointed bishop of Chiapas but did not serve there long because the Spanish there revolted against his defense of the indigenous and his refusal to grant absolution to anyone who held slaves.

He then went to the Spanish court where he wrote and advocated for the rights of the native peoples and provided several historical accounts of the plight of the indigenous in the Americas.

He was a prophetic voice whose words are challenging even today:

“All the gold and silver, all the pearls and other riches that you have extracted from this New World is robbery and must be returned to its rightful owners. Otherwise, those who have pillaged and stripped the land will have to respond before the divine tribunal. If these stolen goods are not restored, you cannot be saved.”

And thus, he would say, we have an obligation:

“All of us, great and small, educated, uneducated, ruler and ruled, public or private individual, all of us are bound unconditionally to help the oppressed, to help those suffering under violence, injury, any evil, with whatever power we have, official or personal.”

 

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