RECLAIMING THE FIRE OF THE EARLY DOMINICAN PREACHERS
By S. Brenda Walsh, Racine Dominican
In 2010 Prakash Lohale, OP, Don Goergen, OP and other Dominican leaders invited fellow Dominicans from around the world to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the members of the Order of Preachers in the Americas.
In his letter to fellow Dominicans, Don Goergen wrote: “Since 15l0, many church documents, Rerum Novarum and recently Caritas in Veritate, call us to reclaim the same social consciousness as the early friars.” The writings urge us to reclaim our independence, to ensure that poor nations have a voice in decisions that affect their lives, and to work toward timely disarmament and food security and peace.
What is truly necessary is “integral human development” described by Pope John Paul V1?
Where are we as Catholics and Dominicans on these moral issues? Are we truly aligned with the Gospel? What are we doing to erase poverty and build peace in a world where millions are dying of hunger and almost half of them are children?” These questions compel us to deep discussion and action. The group of Dominicans that first came to the Americas can help us to give a meaningful response in our time and place.
In 1510, the Master of the Dominican Order, Cajetan sent four Dominicans from Spain to Hispaniola, (later called the Dominican Republic and Haiti) to be a link between the new world and Spain. How did they approach their mission?
First, they looked around and saw the beauty of the land, so rich and bountiful. The people they met were striking and noble in appearance and their children were beautiful as well — free, playful, and loving. They listened to the people, heard their joys and their pains, and approached them with great respect. They welcomed, appreciated, and learned much as they walked side by side with them. They learned their language, customs, and their culture. The natives had a great respect for the land and environment which gave them life and sustenance. To the missionaries, they were wise people who had much to offer.
After a while, the Dominicans began to witness tragic injustices happening to these people. Perpetrators included church people and non-church people alike, who were taking advantage of the indigenous people. The natives were treated harshly — like slaves— and they began to become sick and many of them died from abuse. Children were also badly abused. The Dominican preachers began to alert the authorities to what they were witnessing. Some of these leaders assumed the preachers did not know what they were talking about and told them to mind their own business and that their task was to serve the spiritual needs of the people. Contrarily, the Brothers back in Europe were supportive of what the missionaries were doing by challenging injustice.
The Dominicans studied the causes of the problem and then looked at Scripture and were certain that they must speak out. They picked their best preacher, Friar Antonio de Montesinos, and asked him to preach a sermon on behalf of all of them. He pointed out the evil of the cruelty and tyranny imposed on these innocent people. He asked who gave them the right to hold the native people in such horrible servitude. He implored that they stop killing innocent and peaceful people. He asked: “Are they not human beings?” Many were upset by the sermon and it became evident that the preacher’s life was in danger. He explained that he was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that he felt compelled to speak out against injustice and the abuse of human rights.
The Dominican missionaries felt compelled to preach the truth because that is why they were sent on a mission. They were courageous enough to speak truth against the imposing powers, even at a great risk to their own lives.
What can we learn as Dominicans about preaching truth and justice?
How do we approach people of other cultures? Do we listen to them, learn from them and share with them?
Are we, with our white power and privilege, open to conversion and to the reconstruction of our own way of thinking? Any power and privilege we have is not to be used to control others, but to open doors of opportunity for them. Do many people today say they rarely hear justice issues brought up in relation to the scripture reading of the day? Is it fear that holds us back? How do we reclaim our call to do prophetic preaching?
Do we raise questions about how to create a culture of peace and non-violence, a culture of justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love?
Do we respect the earth and care for it for the sake of present and future generations?
We must ask ourselves, “How do we approach and bring good news to the poor of our time and place?”
As we celebrate the coming of the Dominicans to the Americas, let us make it an ongoing journey as we explore how we can truly preach and live the full Gospel message in our time and place. May we continue the search deeper into life, deeper into love and justice for all and into God. That is what our Dominican calling is all about. May we truly be “committed to truth and compelled to justice.”