Jesuit Priest and Martyr: 1647-1693
+ John was born to a noble family in Lisbon, Portugal. Despite his favored status in the royal court, he entered the Society of Jesus at the age of 15.
+ Following his ordination—and against the strenuous objections of his family—he volunteered for the Jesuit mission in India in 1673. After arriving in Madura, he studied the complex caste system, discovering that most converts belonged to the lower caste. He realized that for Christianity to have a lasting impact in India, members of the higher caste must also convert.
+ John worked in several cities, establishing himself as a Pandara Suami—an ascetical guru—living as they lived, dressing in a saffron cloak and turban, holding retreats in the wilderness where prospective converts could visit him.
+ In time, he was accepted by the people and his reputation continued to grow. It is thought that he converted as many as 10,000 Indians to Christianity.
+ In 1685, he was appointed superior of the mission. His success in spreading the Christian Faith brought him into conflict with the ruling Brahmins, the highest caste, and they ordered that John and his catechist be imprisoned, tortured, and expelled from the country.
+ On February 4, 1693, after John had refused to leave the country, he was beheaded. Saint John de Britto was canonized in 1947 and his honored as the patron of the Diocese of Sivagangai, India, and as one of the patrons of Portugal.
On this day, the Church also remembers Blessed Rabanus Maurus, a Benedictine abbot and bishop. Celebrated for his treatises and commentaries on Scripture and the liturgy, he composed a number of hymns, the best-known of which is the great hymn to the Holy Spirit—Veni Creator Spiritus. Blessed Rabanus Maurus died in 856.
“The martyrdom of Christians is the most sublime expression and sign of love, not only because the martyr remains faithful to his love to the extent of shedding his blood, but also because this sacrifice is performed out of the loftiest and nobles love that can exist, namely love for him who created and redeemed us.”—Blessed Pope Paul VI
Lord God, you sent out your martyrs to preach the Gospel by word and example. Grant a rich harvest of grace to those who are fearless in proclaiming the word of our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who loves and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Jesuit Supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours, collect for the Memorial of Jesuit Martyrs of the Missions)