Efforts to elevate this area’s most important historic figure, Jesuit Priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, to sainthood may have received miraculous intervention with the recent election of the first Jesuit priest ever as pope of the Catholic Church.
Kino’s beatification – the second-to-last step toward sainthood – has been in review seven years. I once met the Jesuit Charles Polzer, an advocate of Kino’s sainthood, and asked him if it would ever happen. He answered half jokingly: “When a Jesuit is elected Pope.”
Kino’s work and creation of 21 missions is astonishing even now, but another of his accomplishments, soon after the Pima Rebellion of 1695, is epic.
In the spring of 1695 the Sicilian Jesuit Francisco Saeta was martyred at his station by dissident Indians. Overreaction on both sides worsened the situation and more Europeans and Indians were killed in the Pimeria Alta. Settlers and Jesuits sent appeals for protection.
A campaign against the rebel Indians was launched by Gov. Gabriel del Castillo. Over 300 of the toughest Spanish Cavalry soldiers, militiamen and Indian allies were gathered “for the task of punishing the perpetrators.” One man, Juan de Barcelona, who “was once relieved from military duty for cruelty was reinstated for this specific campaign.”
On July 16, 1695, three battle groups assembled at Cocospera, about 40 miles southeast of Nogales. One group, under command of Capt. Juan De La Fuente, rode in from Janos, Chihuahua, 170 miles east of Nogales. With them rode an 18-year-old “soldado en la cavalleria,” Cristobel Fontes, my grandfather eight generations ago.
De la Fuente and his 100 soldiers and auxiliaries entered the Santa Cruz Valley on July 14, 1695 from east of Tubac and swept south through the valley to rendezvous at Cocospera.
The typical Spanish cavalry soldier had three horses and could travel 50 miles in a day. Each man carried a smoothbore muzzle-loading musket firing a one-ounce ball. They wore a brace of pistols of the same caliber as the muskets, as well as lances and short-broad swords for close combat. According to historian Herbert E. Bolton, “their wit, courage and stamina was tested beyond any ever known by any horseman anywhere.”
On July 16, 1695, a conference of war was held at the military encampment in Cocospera. In attendance were Father Kino and the military chaplain, Jesuit Agustine de Campos, who rode with the troops.
On July 20, 1695 at 6 a.m. all participants attended a mass conducted by Kino. Forgiveness was asked for what they were about to do and the campaign commenced. Along with two officers, the young Fontes was assigned to guard Kino.
Things settled and by November Kino rode 1,500 miles on horseback to Mexico City to plead with the authorities on behalf of the rebelling Pima. In front of the viceroy and the royal audiencia, “Kino made a heavy assault upon the false charges against and the grave abuse heaped upon his Pimas.”
“Kino demonstrated clearly the abuses which had outraged the indigenous and demanded they be restored to their lands.” Further punitive measures were stopped.
Kino’s arguments succeeded and by February 1696 he traveled back 1,500 miles to his Mission Dolores near Magdalena, Sonora.
Soon after his return to Dolores, a Jacomes rebel Indian made another attempt on Kino’s life. However, one of his bodyguards stepped in front of the rebel coming with a lance and was run through. Again Kino was saved.
Are more miracles necessary?
(Victor M. Fontes y Trujillo is a Nogales native and licensed researcher by the Spanish Ministry of Culture in Sevilla, Spain.)