Heroes of the Faith

Bl. Andre de Soveral, Bl Ambrosio Francisco Ferro
and 28 Companions

The two episodes of the martyrdom of Bl. Andre de Soveral, Bl Ambrosio Francisco Ferro and 28 Companions occurred in this context. In Rio Grande do Norte there were only two parishes: Our Lady of the Presentation in Natal, of which Fr Ambrosio Francisco Ferro was parish priest, and Our Lady of the Purification in Cunhau, directed by Fr Andre de Soveral. These two parish communities were victims of harsh religious persecution by the Calvinists.

Bl. Andre de Soveral was born around 1572 in Sao Vicente, Brazil, the principal town on the island of Santos. He most likely studied at Children of Jesus College in his home town and it is there that his Jesuit vocation began. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1593 and made his novitiate in Bahia. After studying Latin and moral theology and learning the Indios' language, he was sent to the College of Olinda, a catechetical centre for the Indios throughout the region. He had his first missionary experience in Rio Grande do Norte in 1606 among the Potiguar Indios. On that occasion he entered a native village headed by an indigenous woman, Antonia Potiguara, whom he converted and baptized along with other Indios, and blessed her marriage. By 1614 he was parish priest of Cunhau and a member of the diocesan clergy.

The martyrdom of Fr Andre Fr Ambrosio and their faithful parishioners occurred on different days but in the same historical context. The first took place at Our Lady of the Presentation Chapel in Cunhau. On Sunday, 16 July 1645, Fr Andre de Soveral had gathered for Mass about 69 of the faithful, mostly farmers and workers employed in Cunhau's sugar cane factory.

The Dutch sent one of their emissaries to Cunhau, an unscrupulous and cruel German named Jakob Rabe, who presented himself as the envoy of the Supreme Dutch Council of Recife, saying that he would communicate its orders at the end of Mass. But this was merely a pretext, for after the consecration a band of Dutch soldiers, accompanied by Indios, burst into the chapel, blocked the exits and ferociously attacked the defenceless faithful. Fr Andre realized the gravity of the situation and interrupted Mass to urge the faithful to prepare for death. Although he had told the tyrants not to touch the minister of God and the sacred vessels, he was killed by an axe hurled at him by an Indio.

The second episode of martyrdom occurred on the banks of the Uruaqu River, about 20 kilometres from Natal, on 3 October 1645. Here the victims were the city's parishioners, led by their parish priest, Fr Ambrosio Francisco Ferro. Terrorized by the bloodshed that had occurred at Cunhau, the Catholics of Natal took refuge in several places, but in vain. The Dutch authorities forced them to go to a pre-arranged site where they were awaited by soldiers and a group of 200 Indios. Many of the faithful were tortured with their priest in various ways until they died. The chroniclers of the time describe the means of torture: their limbs were severed, their heads cut off; they were burned, their eyes, tongues and noses were torn off. A child was pinned to a tree trunk and another sliced in half with a sword. Mateus Moreira had his heart ripped out through his back, as he cried: "Praised be the Blessed Sacrament". Those martyred include 27 Brazilians, one Portuguese, one Spaniard and one Frenchman.

 


 

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