The Thanksgiving Irony

The Mayflower’s Puritan Pilgrims arrived ill prepared for life in the New World. By the end of their first winter, half of the 102 settlers were dead.

Previous European visitors had imported diseases against which the natives had no immunity. In the area where the Puritans settled, pandemics had spared only 1,000 of a once mighty confederation of 20,000 natives.

[It should be noted that Europeans had no understanding of or control over these diseases. In fact, deadly infection could have gone the other way, as it had two centuries before, when sailors returning from Asia unwittingly imported Black Plague, which killed 75 to 200 million Europeans in the space of about seven years.]

The native leader, Massasoit, was not happy the Puritans had arrived; he was even less enthused about their plan to stay.  And when the starved Puritans found some of their cache of corn and took it for their own use, he decided he’d had enough.

It would have been a simple matter for Massasoit’s warriors to wipe out the failing colony. They did not do so because an English-speaking native, a man we know as Squanto, convinced Massasoit to let him help the settlers.

Squanto introduced himself to the Puritans and served as a translator and diplomat for them in their negotiations with Massasoit. He arranged a pay back plan for the corn they’d taken and helped them with local seed and farming advice suited to the unfamiliar climate.

Squanto’s intervention was interpreted correctly by the Puritans as a blessing straight from God. Ironically, this blessing came to these rigidly anti-Catholic Protestants by way of Pope Paul III and a group of Catholic priests!

In the 16th c., some non-Catholic Christian denominations were teaching that the natives in Africa and the New World were not “made in the image of God” human beings, but rather soul-less animals, the same as pigs or cows.  [Sound familiar?]

In 1537, Pope Paul III taught infallibly that this was nonsense.  Native Americans “and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ.” –Sublimus Dei: On the enslavement and evangelization of Indians (1537)

This is why, in 1614, Catholic priests intervened to spare the kidnapped Squanto from being sold into slavery in Europe.  These priests catechized and baptized him into the Catholic Christian faith.  He then lived and worked among the British, learning their customs and language until 1619, when he returned to his home in the New World.

Tragically, he found everyone in his village had died.  Massasoit was justifiably angry about the European’s diseases, but it seems to me that Squanto, having also been kidnapped by a British slaver, had even greater cause to seek revenge.  The fact that Squanto chose mercy over retaliation suggests to me that he was truly a follower of Jesus Christ.

What an excellently ecumenical God-incidence that the first Protestant settlement to survive in the New World owed its very survival to a baptized Catholic!

Prayer First Thanksgiving


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