Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Did you know Squanto, the Native American hero of Thanksgiving, was Catholic!  
   As a young man, Squanto was kidnapped by a rogue British officer, Lt. Thomas Hunt. Hunt lured Squanto and other Patuxet natives onto his ship, put them in irons and set sail for Malaga off the coast of Spain. Hunt's plan was to sell the Native Americans as slaves. His plan went awry, however, because Spain was a Catholic country and intent on adhering to the teachings of Pope Paul III, put forth in his Papal Bull, "Sublimis Dei." In it, the Pope prohibited Catholic governments from  becoming involved in mistreating or enslaving Indians from the New World. The Pope stated that the native peoples of the Americas were "true men...who could not be lawfully deprived of liberty." 

When Hunt came ashore, a group of Friars rescued Squanto and several of the others. These Friars looked after their needs, both physical and spiritual. Squanto was declared a free man, educated in the Faith and baptized while remaining with these holy priests. Squanto's Baptism also gave additional weight to his status as a free man. His dream to return home never wavered and the Friars secured passage for him on a ship bound for England, the first step in returning to the New World. Six years after his kidnapping, Squanto sailed back into Cape Cod Bay, likely guided by the prominent landmark known today as Plymouth Rock. On coming ashore, he found no trace of his fellow Patuxet natives. Squanto learned from the neighboring tribe that his entire village had been wiped out by a "great sickness."  Squanto was living with the Wampanoag tribe when the Pilgrims arrived a short time later. Massosoit, the leader of the Wampanoags, was upset by  the Pilgrims' presence and sent Squanto, who spoke English, to check out the situation. Squanto calmed Massosoit's fears and concerns about the Pilgrims and negotiated a peace between them which lasted 50 years.

 Governor William Bradford, a leader of the Pilgrims, wrote that Squanto was viewed by the them as "a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectations." Squanto taught the first settlers how to build houses to withstand the cold and to use fish as fertilizer to increase plant yield. Many historians now acknowledge that the Pilgrims' survival was due in large measure to Squanto's presence among them. Governor Bradford recorded that "he never left us till he died." On his deathbed, Squanto asked his friends to pray for him and then handed on his goods to them. Governor Bradford described these gifts to them as "remembrances of his love."

      Squanto's story is an inspiration for all of us to infuse our Catholic faith into our celebration of Thanksgiving. Sister Patricia Proctor, OSC, suggests that the most effective way to do this is to make a special effort to attend Mass together as a family on Thanksgiving Day.  And while at Mass, don't forget to remind the "little pilgrims" in your family that Eucharistia is Greek for Thanksgiving---how very Catholic!
This is a brief retelling of his fascinating story, for more information, go to:

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