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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