Aleteia

This Jesuit missionary preached the Gospel through his love of Native Americans

John de Brébeuf
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The Hurons were receptive to Christianity only after St. John de Brébeuf became part of their tribe.

In 1625 French Jesuit John de Brébeuf arrived in Quebec and shortly began his missionary adventures with the Native Americans. Instead of seeking to win converts in the quickest way possible, Brébeuf took the “long road” by living with local tribes and embedding himself into native culture.

He learned their language, customs and religious beliefs and did not force his Christianity upon them. Instead he quietly lived in their huts and did what he could to help them in their needs.

The Huron way of life wasn’t easy, and when he heard of other Jesuits who wanted to join him, he wrote them a letter and detailed the hardships they would endure.

When you reach the Hurons, you will indeed find hearts full of charity; we will receive you with open arms as an Angel of Paradise, we shall have all the inclination in the world to do you good; but we are so situated that we can do very little. We shall receive you in a Hut, so mean that I have scarcely found in France one wretched enough to compare it with; that is how you will be lodged. Harassed and fatigued as you will be, we shall be able to give you nothing but a poor mat, or at most a skin, to serve you as a bed; and, besides, you will arrive at a season when miserable little insects that we call here Taouhac, and, in good French, pulces [fleas], will keep you awake almost all night, for in these countries they are incomparably more troublesome than in France; the dust of the Cabin nourishes them…We get them in their houses; and this petty martyrdom, not to speak of Mosquitoes, Sandflies, and other like vermin, lasts usually not less than three or four months of the Summer.

Instead of being a great master and great Theologian as in France, you must reckon on being here a humble Scholar, and then, good God! with what masters!—women, little children, and all the Savages,—and exposed to their laughter. The Huron language will be your saint Thomas and your Aristotle; and clever man as you are, and speaking glibly among learned and capable persons, you must make up your mind to be for a long time mute among the [natives]. You will have accomplished much, if, at the end of a considerable time, you begin to stammer a little.

And then how do you think you would pass the Winter with us? I say it without exaggeration, the five and six months of Winter are spent in almost continual discomforts,—excessive cold, smoke, and the annoyance of the [natives]; we have a Cabin built of simple bark, but so we’ll jointed that we have to send some one outside to learn what kind of weather it is; the smoke is very often so thick, so annoying, and so obstinate that, for five or six days at a time, if you are not entirely proof against it, it is all you can do to make out a few lines in your Breviary.

However, the sufferings didn’t dissuade Brébeuf and he gladly accepted everything he experienced, arriving at a deep love for the Native Americans and their culture.

“But is that all?” some one will exclaim. “Do you think by your arguments to throw water on the fire that consumes me, and lessen ever so little the zeal I have for the conversion of these Peoples? I declare that these things have served only to confirm me the more in my vocation; that I feel myself more carried away than ever by my affection for New France, and that I bear a holy jealousy towards those who are already enduring all these sufferings; all these labors seem to me nothing, in comparison with what I am willing to endure for God; if I knew a place under Heaven where there was yet more to be suffered, I would go there.”

While Brébeuf would eventually be martyred by a neighboring tribe, he did begin to see the fruit of his labor as many natives would be baptized and adopt the Christian religion. They did so freely, not being coerced by Brébeuf, but only after seeing his charity shine through and his willingness to become one of them.

His methods of evangelism still hold relevance today and remind us that the most effective preaching we could ever do is through our actions.