Tag Archives: Bartolomé de las Casas

Bishop martyred in Nicaragua

On February 26, 1549, Bishop Antonio Valdivieso, OP, was killed in Leon, Nicaragua, by the governor’s son and his henchmen.

This Dominican friar had for many years been an advocate for the indigenous people of Nicaragua. Born in Spain, he went as a missionary to Nicaragua and, seeing the way the Spaniards treated the native peoples, he began to speak up. At one point, he returned to Spain to denounce the crimes against them. It is not clear that he was heard, but he was appointed bishop of Leon, Nicaragua.


The door of the Real Audiencia de los Confines, Gracias, Lempira. Now the parish radio station.

Returning to Central America, he traveled to what is now Gracias, Lempira, Honduras, where the Spanish crown has established the Real Audiencia de los Confines, the high court of justice for the region. He was ordained bishop in Gracias by his fellow Dominican, Bartolomé de las Casas, and two other bishops. He and las Casas stayed there for some time trying to get the court to really defend the native peoples but finally left. Las Casas returned to his diocese in Chiapas, Mexico, where he continued to advocate for the native peoples until he felt forced out and continued his advocacy in Spain.

Bishop Antonio Validivieso went to Leon and finally arrived there despite the efforts of Spanish soldiers to prevent his entry into the city.

He continued his advocacy until his martyrdom. He is an example of a number of bishops in “New Spain” who spoke out for justice for the native peoples and suffered for it.

In the late twentieth century in Latin America there arose other bishops with the courage and the compassion to be in solidarity with the poor and with the native peoples – most notably, in Central America, Bishop Samuel Ruiz in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, Monseñor Juan Gerardi in Guatemala, and Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero of San Salvador.

We need more bishops like them.


Las Casas, a massacre, and the power of scripture

According to the Agenda Latinoamericana 2014, today is the five hundredth anniversary of the conversion of Bartolomé de las Casas.

Las Casas is well known as a Dominican bishop who was a defender of the indigenous peoples in the New World. But this did not come all that easily for him.

He arrived in the New World in 1502 and stayed here for four years. He returned to Spain to study for the priesthood and was ordained in Rome in 1507.

He returned to the New World where he was given an encomienda, a right to have native peoples as slaves to work for him. The Dominicans in Hispañola had condemned slave-holding, but Las Casas did not think they were correct in refusing absolution to anyone who held slaves.

In 1514, accompanying a group of Spaniards on a pacifying mission in Cuba, led by a friend of his, Las Casas witnessed the massacre of indigenous peoples.

Soon after, while preparing his sermon for Pentecost, Las Casas came upon these verses from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 34:

Unclean is the offering sacrificed by an oppressor. [Such] mockeries of the unjust are not pleasing [toGod]. The Lord is pleased only by those who keep to the way of truth and justice… The one whose sacrifice comes from the goods of the poor is like one who kills his neighbor. The one who sheds blood and the one who defrauds the laborer are kin and kind.

Reflecting on these words, Las Casas concluded that “everything done to the Indians in these Indies was unjust and tyrannical.”

He eventually divested himself of his slaves, He joined the Dominicans and became an advocate of the indigenous.

It took an atrocity to open Las Casas’ heart to the injustice all around him. The blood of the people at the massacre of Caonao, Cuba, moved him to listen attentively to the Word of God.

So much blood is being poured out all around us – but do we let it touch our hearts as it touches the heart of God?

May the example of Bartolomé de Las Casas open our hearts to the cries of the oppressed.

The translation of Sirach is from Francis Patrick Sullivan’s introduction of Indian Freedom: The Cause of Bartolomé de las Casa, 1484-1566: A Reader, pp. 3-4.

All who are burdened

Come to me,
all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11: 28

The last few days I have felt burdened. Last Saturday I gave a ride to the Santa Rosa hospital to a women who had been hacked with a machete by her husband. I found out yesterday that he had tried to harm her the day before. She has been transferred to a hospital in San Pedro Sula and that her lower arm and hand had been amputated.

I wish I could have helped more.

But I also feel burdened by the many types of violence that people experience here. This woman experienced domestic violence, which is not uncommon. Many people have not been raised with the skills of dealing with conflict and are all too easily frustrated. There is also the violence of revenge that is related to the lack of a justice system that responds to crimes. There is also the violence of poverty that leaves people without medical care, without a good educational system, with unemployment –  a violence that can be traced to massive inequality here and throughout the world and to structures of injustice.

Violence – all too much violence.

And so I bring this to Jesus – and seek to take upon myself His yoke of love, of compassion, of solidarity with the poor.

I also remember today the death of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in 1566. He was a sixteenth century Dominican who became a defender of the native peoples in the Americas.

He once wrote in a tract to the Spanish authorities:

All of us, therefore, 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. We are bound to free them, both by the law of nature and the law of charity.

We are bound, yoked to the poor of this world.

At times this feels like a heavy burden. But then I need to place this concern, and the people who suffer, in the arms of Jesus.

I do not leave them there but remember that I am called to be the arms of Jesus to those I meet.

As St. Teresa of Avila wrote:

Christ has no body on earth but yours;
no hands on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks out
with compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet with which he chooses
to go about doing good.
For as He is the Head of the Body,
so you are the members;
and we are all one in Christ.

A prophetic denunciation, 1511

Five hundred years ago today, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, a Dominican friar mounted the pulpit of the church in Santo Domingo, Hispañola (now the Dominican Republic), and preached a fiery sermon denounced slavery and the system that enslaved the native peoples of the Americas.  Fray Antonio de Montesinos, O.P., did not speak for himself alone but for the whole community of Dominican friars. The reaction was fierce, but the word had been spoken.

“You are all in mortal sin! You live in it and you die in it!

“Why? Because of the cruelty and tyranny you use with these innocent people. Tell me, with what right, with what justice, do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars on these people, in their mild, peaceful lands, where you have consumed such infinitudes of them, wreaking upon them this death and unheard-of havoc? How is it that you hold them so crushed and exhausted, giving them nothing to eat, nor any treatment of their diseases, which you cause them to be infected with through the surfeit of their toils. so that they ‘die on you’ [as you day] — you mean. you kill them — mining gold for you day after day? And what care do you take that anyone catechize them, so that they may come to know their God and Creator, be baptized, hear Mass, observe Sundays and holy Days? Are they not human beings? Have they no rational souls? Are you not obligated to love them as you love yourselves? Do you not understand this? Do you not grasp this? How is it that you sleep so soundly, so lethargically? Know for a certainty that in the state in which you are you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks who have not, nor wish to have, the faith of Jesus Christ.”

Would that we had more Christians like him who speak out boldly against injustice and oppression!


I have seen some reports that the sermon was delivered on December 5, 1511. But Bartolomé de Las Casas wrote that it was the fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 1511. Las Casa also noted that  the Gospel reading  was John 1: 19-28, what the Dominican Rite Missal used on the fourth Sunday of Advent.