Bartolomeo, an idealistic, wealthy young Spaniard, set out with his family to settle in Central America during the period when this vast southern continent was being colonised by Spain. The year was 1502-03. At this time the colonisers were fast becoming “conquistadores” – bullying conquerors. However the newcomers had already discovered that they weren’t on virgin territory but that people had already been living there – for centuries. But they were strange – “savage” – “natives”. Some Churchmen as well as politicians even argued that these people had no “souls”, and therefore were little less than animals! They simply had a complete inability to accept ethnic and racial difference as in any way equal to white Europeans.
Las Casas became a Dominican friar, and was drawn into the struggle to ensure justice and respect for indigenous peoples. In fact in many ways he was way ahead of his time. He familiarised himself with the culture and customs of the Indians, and developed a great respect and love for their lives, culture, customs and traditions. He saw the evils of racism in the way that Africans had been brought to South America as slaves, and denounced this practice also. He was a man of prayer, who had discovered that the Gospel he professed demanded that the search for justice, respect and human rights be fully included in his ministry as a priest and later as a bishop. He made enemies back in Spain, but was greatly loved by those he befriended.
He can be an example for us all today, since the issues he strove for are, sadly, still alive and well among us: Respect for differences of colour, race, culture, traditions, belief, is as much an element of Gospel living as the worship of God.
Lord help us to live your Gospel. AMEN
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