This book is dedicated to the canonization of Joseph Chiwatenhwa, Marie Aonetta and their family and friends
Additional sources of information included An Ethno-graphy of the Huron Indians, by Elizabeth Tooker (Huronia Historical Development Council, 19671: The Huron: Farmers of the North, by Deuce C. Trigger (Toronto: Holt. Rinehart and Winston. 1969(, and Huronia: A History and Geography of the Huron Indians, 1600-1690, by Conrad Heideurreiech (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1971).
Also valuable were Friend and Foe: Aspects of French Amerindian Cultural Contact in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Cornelius J. Jaenen (Toronto: MeClelland and Stewart Limited, 1973); The People of the Center American Indian Religion and Christianity, by Carl Starkloff S.J. (New York: Seabury Press, 1975); The Sacred Tree, by Judie Bopp, Michael Bopp, Lee Brown, and Phil Lane (Lethbridge, Alberta: Four Worlds Development Press, 1985(; Le Premier Retraitant du Canada: Joseph Chiouatenhoua, Huron (d. 1640), by Leon Pouliot, sj. (Montreal: Les Edihons Bellarmin, 1958(, and an unpublished translation ofFather Pouliot's work by Lawrence Braceland, S.J,
Thanks are due to Marcel Gervals, former Bishop of Sault Ste. Marle, and to Wffliam Addley, N.J., provincial of the Jesuit province of Upper Canada, for their encouragement of this work.
Particular thanks to Nadine Roach of the Ojibway people for pointing
out that portraying Christian missionaries as heroes who sacrificed to
save Natives perpetuates stereotypes of dependency and inadequacy which
continue to oppress Native people in Canada today.
List of Chapters
- Christian Apostles
- The Sound of Spirit Voices
- Spirit Baptism
- Water of Life
- Teacher of Peace
- A Native Catechist
- Native Women
- Something To Celebrate
- Burning Embers
- Lay Administrator
- The Dream
- From Wolves To Lambs
- The Prayer
- The Face Of Opposition
- Sweat Lodge
- Village To Village
- Burning Sticks From The Fire
- From the Harvest
- The Blessings Of Heaven
- Pray For Us
It may seem that the Jesuits brought "white religion" as if it were superior to Native culture and spirituality. However, Jesus came into the world so all human beings of every culture could experience more complete unity with the Great Spirit who created us.
The warrior Chiwatenhwa was one of the first to respond to an attraction to Jesus. He became an enthusiastic leader in the new Native church. His wife Aonetta and some of their relatives also came to love Jesus and bravely faced opposition to Christian faith in their community. We know about them from the Jesuits' reports to their friends in France.
Pope John Paul II honoured the spirituality of Chiwatenhwa and
when Native Canadians gathered in Huronia to meet him in September 1984. The Pope said that Joseph Chiwatenhwa and his wife, Marie Aonetta, with his brother and other relatives, "lived and witnessed to their faith in a heroic manner.
"These men and women," he continued, "not only professed their faith and embraced Christ's love, but they in turn became evangelizers and provide even today eloquent models for lay ministry."
The Pope acknowledged the Native tradition and expressed his joy in the Native Canadian church. "These new Christians," he said, "knew by instinct that the gospel, far from destroying their authentic values and customs, had the power to purify and uplift the cultural heritage which they had received."
"Christ," said the Pope at Huronia, "in the members of his body,
is himself Indian.
In the town of Ossossane the council of the Bear tribe decided to have a feast for the dead. It would honour everyone who died since the last feast, about ten years before.
The Huron told the Jesuit missionary Jean de Brebeuf a story showing
their strong attachment to relatives who were gone to the next life. Once
when a young woman died her brother could not stop mourning. He journeyed
toward the setting sun to bring her back from the village of souls. He
did not eat or drink for a week. She appeared for a moment. She gave him
some crushed corn and water. He hiked for three more months to the land
of the dead. A man at the gate told him
where he would find his sister and gave him a pumpkin in which to hold her soul. He found her dancing with other souls around a fire in a longhouse. When she saw him she hid for a while, and then she let him place her soul in the pumpkin. They returned to the guardian, who gave him her brain in another pumpkin.
Back in their village the brother had a feast. He danced with his sister's skeleton over his shoulders and one of the pumpkins in each hand. After only a few steps life began to return to her bones. But no one could look while he danced. When someone stared at her the sister fled back to the dead.
In fact, the Huron understood a dead person to have two souls. One stayed with the body at the burial platform until the feast of the dead when the people mourned and prayed for the dead by dancing and chanting. They took down the bodies. They put them together in a large grave, lined with the best deer skins and beaver pelts. They gave them wampum beads and all kinds of treasures to keep them happy on their journey to the land of souls. Then the spirits of the dead would say goodbye and go to their own village. The other soul would stay with the bones at the burial place. That is why it is sacred ground.
They expressed their beliefs carefully. Sometimes they spoke loudly, sometimes softly. Everyone listened.
Jean replied. He knew the Huron language and understood the way people talked in a council. Jean described what he believed about the dead. He explained his conviction that the experiences we have in our lives on earth are just hints of joy to come after we die. We can let the dead go, with prayers to the Great Spirit for their safety. Death can be a doorway. It does not mean exile and distance from family and friends, but love and prosperity. Jesus has promised. Jesus-the God who suffered so that all people might experience life in a full way.
However, a while later the question of moving the Frenchmen's graves became unimportant because some Bear villages decided they did not want to be part of the feast so it was postponed.
Who can explain why? Perhaps the customs of his people left questions
in his mind. Or it could be that in a vision quest or a dream Chiwatenhwa
was prepared for the Creator to come to him in a special way.
In the summer of 1636 a terrible epidemic struck the Huron people. The missionaries wanted to help. They offered white people's medicine and tried to comfort people by speaking of the Creator's love. They invited people to pray to Jesus, because, they said, Jesus' death on the cross opens the way for our spirits to pass through death into the experience of unending life in heaven. If a person was close to death, the priest would ask him or her to make a commitment to Jesus by receiving the sacrament of baptism.
Each longhouse was the home of about 50 people, all related through the mothers, with one elderly woman in charge.
They feasted and prayed to persuade the demons to stop causing the illness. The herbalists and shamans were there. People danced and chanted to help the sick person strengthen the life force. It was a scene of chaos to European eyes and ears and one full of meaning and caring to the Natives.
Chiwatenhwa listened as Jean and the others spoke of the life-giver and his child who let himself be sacrificed to save us from the demons. Suddenly it seemed a shadow was torn away from Chiwatenhwa's inner eye. Perhaps he had the experience of baptism of the spirit. For he began to manifest gifts of praise, thanksgiving, and intercession for other people's needs. He uttered prayer spontaneously. He thought about God's desires for us, and had a deep understanding of God's laws. People noticed a difference and started to call him "the Christian".
The Huron carried babies in cradle boards covered with coloured quills and beads, as some Natives continue to do. No wonder people started calling Chiwatenhwa "the Christian".
They saw the warrior carrying a newborn infant among the houses,
the canoes, and the racks of pelts and fish. He prayed out loud as he went,
offering this gift of new life to the Creator in a way the Natives had
before. As they watched him, some people wondered, "Is our brother Chiwatenhwa making a mistake? Do the French priests really love us?" Some shamans believed that the white priests were bad medicine men who served a demon that wanted to devour the Huron. They said the blackrobes wanted to kill them with diseases carried by their talismans, to stop them from going to their own village of souls when they died.
Chiwatenhwa wanted his son to experience the touch of Jesus in the sacrament of baptism with water poured from a bark bowl and signs made on his body with oil. The Jesuits christened the little boy and gave him the baptismal name Thomas.
The people of Ossossane worked with the Jesuits' French helpers to build a longliouse for the mission. A Huron longhouse was usually about seven metres wide and twice as long. The walls were made of saplings, standing side by side upright in the ground. They were bent and joined at the top to form a roof with smoke holes about six or eight metres above the earth floor. There were storage bins at the sides and poles along the top for hanging corn and fish. The Jesuits' house was different. It had a wall inside to create a special worship space. In honour of Mary, the mother of Jesus, they called it the chapel of the Immaculate Conception.
In June 1637 about 40 people from Ossossane helped the Jesuit
group settle in their new house. It attracted people not only because of
the enclosed chapel area, but also because it had an altar where the blessed
sacrament was reserved. On the altar were candles the Jesuits brought from
Quebec. Life-size oil paintings from France, representing Jesus and Mary,
also amazed people. The Huron knew how to paint. They used dye mixed with
sunflower seed oil or bear
fat to paint pictures of people, animals, and various objects on their pipes and on stone, wood, bark, or leather. Sometimes they placed large paintings at the entrance of the longhouse. Their artistic skills were well developed, but they had never seen European-style representational oil paintings on canvas.
The Natives were not shy; they were openly curious. Their questions let the Jesuits explain Christian faith.
The most frequent visitor was Chiwatenhwa. He made friends with
missionaries because he believed they truly brought good news. He was glad they came to Ossossane to stay because he hungered to learn more about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
The sad fact is that the Europeans did bring new diseases. But they did not do it knowingly; it would be two centuries before scientists would understand the immune system well enough to know how the Jesuits could carry disease organisms to which the Natives were still vulnerable. There is no doubt that the Jesuits intended only to do good. They hoped to help the Native peoples develop a fuller relationship with the God who created and redeemed us.
Chiwatenhwa and Aonetta, among others, continued to trust the Christians. Chiwatenhwa explained to other Indians the attraction he felt to Jesus and, through Jesus, to the Great Spirit. Unfortunately we do not know much about how he handled the tensions between the Native tradition and his faith life as a devotee of Jesus Christ. There was growing opposition to Christianity from traditionalists, and it is a testament to the power of God's love for those, on both sides who opened themselves to it, that Chiwatenhwa and the Jesuits could witness to their friendship with Jesus in the face of opposition.
Traditional Indian healing was more religious than white medicine, although some would say this was because the spiritual roots of European medical science had grown invisible. However, even before he got sick Chiwatenhwa thought deeply about the law of God, "You shall have no other gods before me." Because of his interpretation of that law, he refused Native shamanic healing. He did not want to offend Jesus.
Jean de Brebeuf visited him several times a day and helped Aonetta and other relatives look after him. The Jesuits prayed for him. But his fever got worse.
In the past he had often asked for baptism. The Jesuits held back
because there was so much reluctance among the people that they wanted
his desire for this commitment to God to be tested. Now they asked Chiwatenhwa
if he wanted to join Christ in the mystery of the sacrament as a sign of
his faith that he would rise with Christ to new life. He was too weak to
stand up. But he found energy to say how frustrated he was that they had
denied his previous requests for
"Since I got sick," he said, "every time you
came to see me I said to myself, Why don't they baptize me? Well, I'll
leave it up to them since they know that I deeply desire it?" They baptized
him on August 16, 1637. He
took the baptismal name Joseph, after the earthly father of Jesus who is the protector of the church in Canada.
As the waters of baptism flowed over his feverish brow, Joseph
Chiwatenhwa experienced peace and love deep in his heart. He thought of
the life of the soul with God, and of heaven, where we will know how to
respond fully with love, to love. He spoke of these things as he lay with
Joseph Chiwatenhwa believed the blackrobes were good. To prove it he took advantage of an Indian custom-he had a feast to celebrate getting better. He opened the festivities by saying a blessing over the food. He prayed in thanksgiving to the Creator for being able to gather people to celebrate his decision to live wholly for the Great Spirit who created and redeemed all of life. He made a public profession of his vow. He began to talk more openly about his faith experience. He was a teacher of the way of peace.
Most Huron houses had a fish-preacher. He had power to attract fish into the nets. Fish preachers discouraged people from burning fish bones or giving them to dogs, so the fish would feel respected and allow themselves to be caught. The Huron would also throw some tobacco into the water as an offering when they fished, for an abundant catch would mean they would have some extra to preserve for the winter.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa prayed before he hunted or fished. However, now he did not so much revere the spirits of the game or fish, but the Great Spirit who created them.
"You who made everything that exists," he would say, "you are master of the animals. If you make some fall into my traps, may you be blessed. If not, I wish only what you wish."
His friendship with Jesus gradually embraced his whole life.
He spoke with God as a friend that he loved more than anyone else. He asked God to bless the Huron. He prayed that they would be spared from attack by their enemies and from epidemics. He prayed for the dead. He asked for the forgiveness of his sins. He thanked God for all the gifts of faith.
He knew that Jesus, the child of God, became flesh and blood and then died and rose again so that we might have life more abundantly. Through Jesus Christ we can truly relate to the Great Spirit who is our father and mother. Joseph Chiwatenhwa experienced the risen Jesus as a brother and intimate friend. He felt himself to be in the hands of God. He lived in God's house.
The peace he felt in his heart was the only sign he needed that the blackrobes preached a spirituality that could enrich the Native tradition. He did not waver. One day he said to the Jesuits, "I am so determined to stay faithful to God, that if any one wanted to make me go back to my old ways, they would have to kill me." He knew it could happen, for more and more people believed that he had joined the blackrobes in a plot to destroy the nation.
Sometimes it was hard. He talked with the priests about
Job in the Old Testament. Job suffered great trials. Through
them all he never stopped loving God. At first Joseph Chiwatenhwa
prayed to Jesus never to hide his face. He did not want to experience
doubt about God's love for him. As he grew in trust, he became more
Then Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Aonetta's new baby boy got sick. His father picked him up in his arms and quieted him by whispering that he did not have to fear to die.
"You are safe, my little one," he would say. "You are already in the protective hands of God."
The Jesuits compared him to Abraham in the Old Testament, who was prepared to return his only son to God. Joseph Chiwatenhwa prayed that he and Aonetta would be able to let go of their natural desire for the baby to cling to life in the flesh. In a few days the little baby died. Right away Joseph Chiwatenhwa went to the chapel. In front of the blessed sacrament he poured out his prayers that the child might indeed rest in peace, in the Lord. His faith was firm that his infant son would pray for them all in heaven.
As summer passed into autumn, the epidemic stopped.
In the Jesuit Relation of 1638-39, Francois LeMercier talks about a letter that Joseph Chiwatenhwa wrote. Perhaps one day it will turn up in archives in Quebec or France.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa received the gift of so deep an understanding of Christian faith that he could dictate speeches in Huron to the priests. They used them to instinct people about Christ. Together they translated French prayers and songs into Huron, changing not only the words but also the images so the people could understand them from their everyday experiences.
"Neither the Gospel nor the holy scripture has been composed for them," he said. "Our Christian mysteries are not expressed in their words, and even the parables and the teachings of Jesus seem foreign to them."
He listed things he had noticed that were not part of the experience of the woodland Native North Americans: salt, leaven or yeast, pearls, prison, mustard seeds, casks of wine, lamps, candlesticks, and torches. Even basic biblical images like kingdoms, kings, and majesty, shepherds, flocks, and sheepfolds were not part of the Huron culture. That explains why the Jesuits were so grateful for Joseph Chiwatenhwa's skilled and generous help in reinterpreting the Christian gospels.
In Europe one could use concepts and images from the history of the Middle East and Europe itself. Lalemant recognized that they had a lot of work to do to discover where the faith could enter Indian minds. But he did not despair because, he wrote, 'The blood of Jesus Christ has been shed for all people." Joseph Chiwatetenhwa knew this and devoted his life to introducing Christian faith to people in terms they could understand.
People would gather to sing and dance. They also played games. Someone might bring out the plum-stones, black on one side, white on the other, so they could play the bowl game. Each player would pick up the bowl with its six stones and hit it hard on the ground to make the stones bounce. You won if they fell either all white or all black. Sometimes they played snowsnakes. They threw long, smooth carved sticks like javelins along an icy track-maybe a frozen creek bed-to see whose would go furthest.
One day in January 1638 the Jesuits came to a party at the chiefs longhouse in Ossossane. After the meal, the chief gathered the band council and invited everyone to stay, so they could listen to Jean de Brebeuf, who was becoming famous among the Indians for his public-speaking skill. He talked about the difference between traditional Huron spiritual life and Christian faith experience. He encouraged them to be open to let Jesus come into their lives.
Afterwards, an elder - one of Joseph Chiwatenhwa's cousins-asked how come none of the French died during the epidemic last summer. Joseph Chiwatenhwa answered. He honestly believed the Jesuits did not come to cause the disease; they came to show the love of Jesus Christ for the Indians. A lot of people found that what he said rang true for them. He and his family convinced a few to trust the priests. The Ossossane Christian community began to expand.
Often people came to the Jesuits' house. They liked to watch
them in their colourful vestments, especially when they sang and prayed
in Huron. After worship Joseph Chiwatenhwa would ask questions that
he sensed were in the Indians' minds so the priests could answer them.
He listened to people's statements about how they felt and told them how
he experienced Christ so they could relate it to their own perceptions.
The family had a feast the night before the baptism. Chiwatenhwa prayed a blessing and spoke of his joy that his whole family was Christian. The sacrament took place in the chapel on March 19,1638, the day Christians everywhere remember Saint Joseph.
The Jesuits decorated their longhouse. It filled up with people who came to watch the liturgy of baptism. Aonetta received the name Marie after the Blessed Mother, as her baptismal name.
Joseph Chiwateunwa's brother Teonderchorren and his wife were
there. They were with a baby boy, still at the breast, and a girl about
five years old. Both children had already been baptized during the epidemic.
Now Teondechorren's wife seemed to be touched by the Holy Spirit. She walked
up to the priests who had just baptized Marie Aonetta. She asked them to
baptize her. They agreed that she was ready and performed the sacrament.
She died unexpectedly a few days later. Her death confirmed the skeptics'
suspicion that baptism could cause disease and death.
Jean asked Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa how they felt about their marriage. They had always been uncomfortable about the Indian way of having different partners and divorcing easily. They had agreed to stay together for life and to be each other's only lover. They asked if they could receive the blessing of the church on their relationship, so right after the baptism the chapel became the scene of a wedding. They joined in offering their relationship and themselves and their family to God.
It was the first Christian wedding in Ontario. After the wedding, the Christians celebrated a Eucharist. Then the Jesuits made a feast.
Today people who stay in the summer cottages along Ossossane Beach
on the Penetang peninsula perhaps have a hint of what it was like for an
Indian couple at the time prior to white settlement. In love with each
other and in love with God, Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta walked
on the same ground three and a half centuries ago. At night the stars shine
over the wide water in the clear open sky and the ripples gently lap on
the beach that trails between the forest and the water.
Jerome Lalemant wrote to France that Joseph Chiwatenhwa was "the leaven of the gospel that makes the dough of this new Huron church rise," for he went to all the Villages with the missionaries as one of their helpers.
A lot of people enjoyed listening to him tell the story of his faith experiences. He talked with the same familiarity with Jesus that the Huron people already had with the spirit world they knew. He was in love with God, the Creator. Sometimes when he spoke it seemed as though his heart was on fire, and the Holy Spirit supplied the words. He praised God and blessed God all the time, whether he was at church, talking with people, or walking alone in the forest.
The elder Aochiati, a master of the society of the dance in Teanaustaye, responded to the call of the Holy Spirit that he heard through the Christians. Aochiati was about 70 years old. when he asked for baptism, Joseph Chiwatenhwa helped him get ready. They talked about how a Huron could live for Jesus. Aochiati had two granddaughters he loved very much. He and his granddaughters acted against the belief of the people who thought that baptism caused death, especially to children.
They followed their desire to commit themselves to the one God. They received baptism on December 20,1638. They were the first members of the church of Teanaustaye.
When they got home, he came down with a fever. It lasted 40 days and more than once everyone thought he would die. Sometimes he was delirious. He would get up and dance around the fire without any clothes on.
He cried out, 'Let them come! Let them burn me! Then they'll see if I really believe in God or if I am just talking that way!"
Even when he was sick he was full of consciousness of Jesus Christ. Once again he recovered.
An amazing event happened at fishing time. Each fall a group of men went to stay on the islands in Georgian Bay for about two weeks to catch whitefish as they came into the shallows to feed. In the fall of 1638 it rained heavily all around except where Joseph Chiwatenhwa and a few others were fishing. They were the only ones to catch anything.
An answered prayer? Perhaps.
By Christmas 1638 Joseph Chiwatenhwa understood Christian teaching so well that he spoke for a long time as a lay-preacher at the Christmas celebrations. He said Jesus' birth was like the fire shining around them in the cabin: it shattered and chased away the shadows of sin and ignorance, as it does today when Jesus is reborn by faith in a person's heart.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa loved to go to mass, and that Christmas day he knelt through five eucharistic celebrations. He and Marie Aonetta and the other baptized Hurons went to confession and made their communion. He was growing as an apostle, living in imitation of the twelve who were sent by Jesus to spread his word among people. The apostolic zeal of Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta equaled that of the Jesuits. We see from the written records that the priests believed God had rewarded them with the privilege of knowing a man and woman of exceptional holiness.
In their longhouse Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa had a Canada goose that they looked after since it was little. They fed it grain, grass, and insects. Their plan was to keep it for a feast. However, the people had a custom that made this difficult. The Huron believed that one reason people might get sick was that their souls had unsatisfied desires.
Knowledge of what they wanted could come in a dream. Or a shaman might
use intuition to penetrate the depths of the soul to see the desires that
the sick person had dreamed of and forgotten. According to the old custom,
the sick person could ask the people of the village to give him or her
anything. It might be presents. a feast, or a ritual celebration; anyone
would gladly give what the sick person wanted. It was the Huron way. However,
Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa decided to refuse to give the goose
to anyone who asked for it to fulfil a soul desire, because the custom
now seemed superstitious to them. If someone wanted it for a good reason,
they could have it. But if it was to fulfil a superstitious wish, they
would be stubborn and hold onto it!
Father Paul LeJeune had come to Huronia to be the new superior of the Jesuit community in the autumn of 1638. He believed it would be better for the Jesuits to have one main mission centre. Jesuit brothers and lay workmen built the village of Ste-Marie-Among-the-Hurons. It was surrounded by a Huron-style stockade of pointed poles with watch towers at the corners. Ste-Marie was about three hours on foot from Ossossane.
Destroyed in 1649, it has been restored at its original site on the Wye River near Midland. At Ste-Marie today pilgrims can pray at the graves of Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant who, with many Huron, were killed in the area. In one section of the village people can walk into an authentic longhouse and talk with Indian guides who tend the fire and do crafts in the traditional way.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa became Canada's first lay parish administrator looking after the Jesuits' longhouse and chapel at Ossossane. He took responsibility for the faith life of the small Christian community there. He continued to spend much time in the chapel. He loved to meditate by focusing his thoughts on Jesus and letting the Lord carry his mind and imagination wherever he wanted them to go. He would sit and feel Jesus' love. We do not know if Joseph Chiwatenhwa had the charismatic gift of tongues, but his heart overflowed with such strong feelings that his prayers usually came tumbling aloud from his lips.
Some of his actual words are given in the Relation of 1640.
"My God," he said, "I'm looking after your house; please take care of mine. I watch your temple; please take care of my soul. I want you to let me be as close to you as a saint, because to look after one of your holy places a person has to be a saint. Please sanctify me."
He often prayed that Jesus would show mercy to his people because he wanted everyone to experience the spiritual consolation he received.
For a few days in the spring of 1639 Joseph Chiwatenhwa was fishing
with an old friend, newly baptized, whose name was Rene Tsondihwane. Joseph
told Rene about a dream he had... Three or four enemy raiders snuck into
Huron country. while they were prowling in the area around Ossossane, they
spotted him in the bush. They jumped him by surprise. when he moved to
defend himself, they threw him to the ground. They scalped him and then
killed him by driving a hatchet into his skull.
He said, "My friend, if we weren't Christians now would be the time when we would need to ward off the demons by our magic songs and feasts. But these demons are not the masters of our lives. Our lives are in the hands of the Creator. We believe in him, and we know that he alone will call us to him when it is time for us to behold him face to face."
People who did not have Christian faith believed that the spirits in the dream were demanding a feast or sacrifice of two dogs. They thought it was dangerous to refuse such a demand. Joseph Chiwatenhwa was not afraid to die because he knew he was safe in God's hands. But his dream was preparing him to be ready for anything. He understood that each of us honours Jesus by following him to our own cross and resurrection.
A trading party-usually a group of men from one village would go along the river to Georgian Bay, through the Thirty Thousand Islands, along the French River, across Lake Nipissing, and then along the Mattawa, Ottawa, and Saint Lawrence rivers. The route aimed to avoid contact with enemies. Several canoes usually travelled together. Each carried five or six men plus supplies and beaver skins. They had treaties with the tribes they encountered along the way. The trip took about 20 days. Every man had to paddle all the time.
There were many portages around rapids and waterfalls, some of them several kilometres long. At each portage they took the bundles and the canoes on their backs through the woods and over the rocks. Each required a few trips in order to carry everything. Some of the rapids were traversed by jumping into the water and walking the canoe through the rocky passage rather than portaging. At night they slept under the stars.
In the summer of 1639, Joseph Chiwatenhwa and the Jesuits Francois LeMercier went to Quebec alone. During the trip the priest was struck by the intensity of his companion's devotion to God. In a natural way, he prayed all the time. He offered all his labours-the paddling and the portages-to the Lord.
The trip was a pilgrimage, for he considered it a privilege to accompany the Jesuit to Quebec and he looked forward to meeting the people in the Christian community there. In Quebec he got to know other Jesuits, as well as other priests and religious including the Ursuline nun Marie of the Incarnation. She wrote about Joseph Chiwatenhwa in letters to her son which were later published as a book in France.
A group of French nuns disembarked.
They kissed the soil of the country where they would serve God in the Native people by opening hospitals and schools. Their desire to help the Natives-to bring God's love-made a deep impression on Joseph Chiwatenhwa. He imagined how hard it would be for a Huron to go to France to teach or nurse people.
Going back was harder because it meant paddling upstream along the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. For food on the trip the Natives would bring enough ground corn so that each day they could have two helpings of cornmeal boiled in water. The Huron staple, this dish is called sagamite.
On the way down, Joseph Chiwatenhwa hid seven caches of corn so they could retrieve them on the way back. They discovered, however, that five of the seven had been stolen. Although there were plenty of fish in the waters, time did not allow the men to do more than trail a line behind the canoe as they travelled. They experienced hunger. Joseph Chiwatenhwa offered it to God, in faith that Jesus would look after them. His joy was greater because he was bringing a few bundles of supplies for the Christian community at Ste-Marie. Among them were some heavy relics of saints that he prayed to along the voyage.
The Jesuits tell of a man who rubbed the ashes of a bird on his nets to appease the spirits of the fish so he could catch them. Because Joseph Chiwatenhwa feared that the spirit in a talisman his father gave him when he died might not be pleasing to Jesus, he never used it. He felt it was God's will that he simply accept what was meant for him. He did not want to change his fortune by attempting to manipulate the powers. His action was in the spirit of the prayer of Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, "Grant me only your love and your grace; they're enough for me."
For centuries Christians have prayed the rosary. Rosary prayers
express devotion to Mary and, through Mary, to Jesus. The joyful,
sorrowful, and glorious mysteries guide us through meditation about Jesus
as we ponder the events of his time on earth. For Joseph Chiwatenhwa, the
rosary replaced the
talismans of his forebears.
At one time one of his nieces was sick. She seemed hysterical, for at night she would cry out as if she had seen a ghost. He put his rosary around her neck. He calmed her by telling her to remember that she was a Christian. He told her not to be afraid because the demons could not affect her any more.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa wanted to experience his friendship with Jesus as deeply as he could. The Jesuits talked to him about the guided meditations and prayers they call the Spiritual Exercises. The exercises could fine-tune his ability to discern movements of the Holy Spirit in his inner life. The deep prayer experience of a retreat would strengthen him for the storms he would pass through as he continued to spread the good news in a skeptical community. when they suggested the possibility, Joseph immediately replied, "why have you held back on something that could do me so much good?
"A thousand times I have thought of asking why you didn't teach me the type of prayer I see the Jesuits do. You pray for a long time without moving your lips. I kept quiet because I figured you would show me when I was ready. I just had to wait."
They set a date, but things got in the way; there were delays. Joseph Chiwatenhwa decided that a spirit of evil might be lurking underneath what looked like urgent family matters. They could wait. God would look after his relatives. Just when the Jesuits least expected to see him, he turned up at Ste-Marie, ready to make his retreat.
He wrote down some of his prayers. "God," he prayed, "I'm here to learn what you want for me. I promise to do it, even if it costs me my life. But I can only serve you if you let me know what you want."
As the days went by he became even more conscious of God's love. He prayed, "How can I depend on other people? My father and mother, the ones who loved me and taught me the most, are gone. Now God in his goodness serves me as mother and father. Even when I wasn't thinking about the Creator, he was thinking of me. I have been like a child at its mother's breast, biting and tormenting her when she was trying to nourish me.
"God," he wrote," has called people from the other side of the world to come here for me, and almost for me alone. 0, my God, how great is your love! How can I place my faith in anyone other than you?"
The priest asked him bow he reacted to these torments.
"I pray to the Creator," he replied. "I ask him to recognize my nothingness and to speak to the depth of my heart. I am here to listen."
Then, he said, he would pray to the Blessed Virgin: "Holy Mary, mother of my Saviour Jesus, here I am, in the chapel of your house. Who will help me if you don't? Have pity on me. I've come here to learn God's will, but now I'm all mixed up, and if he speaks, I'm not sure I'll even hear. I am nothing. You are all-powerful. Pray for me to your beloved son Jesus."
He addressed the saints whose relics he carefully carried by canoe from Quebec. "Great saints, I don't even know your names, but you must know I carried your relics here all the way from Quebec. Take pity on me. Pray for me to your chief and mine, Jesus."
"Then," he told his director, "I thought of the pictures in the chapel, and prayed to those saints, especially Saint Joseph, whom I'm named after."
He had learned from the Spirit how to persevere and storm heaven with his prayers.
"Lord," he said, "I don't want to try to decide what good things you have in store for your friends after they die. I can't get my mind into it. It's enough that you have said that we will always be content. You know how to make us happy better than we do.
"If I try to picture heaven as a place where there are beautiful longhouses, fine beaver skins, plenty of venison and bear to eat, I would only be making you as rich as some of us people are," he prayed.
"Other parts of the world have different kinds of treasures than we do. Why shouldn't heaven be different from anything we know? No human riches can compare with yours.
"It is enough that you have promised that we will be happy there forever."
"Even if I learn that my wife and children are sick," he said, "I will not leave here until the eight days are up. I don't have to worry. God sees everything that happens with my family. I am not the head of it, God is. If it is his will that they die, what can I do about it? I could not help them. I can do more for them here, where I am close to God.
"A spirit of evil tried to keep me from starting these exercises, and now it tries to make me stop. I will follow the wise advice of those who direct me. If they say I should go to help the sick, I will."
He spoke in a kind of parable to explain his feelings.
"Say a young woman lives in her father-in-law's house. She gets an invitation from her father, who is rich, to come and visit him. The father-in-law rejoices that her father will share his wealth with the woman. She will be comfortable.
"So if someone in our family dies, I will believe that God draws her to his house. I will rejoice, because I know she will be better off there than with me."
He was amazed at the way his knowledge and understanding of God could grow. "We people have no sense!" he said in exasperation. "Only now am I beginning to know God, why is he not known? what are people thinking about? where was my mind?
"And," he added, "when you know God, how can you possibly commit serious sin?"
In prayer he frequently offered his blood and his life for his nation. He made a commitment that he would never lose an opportunity to speak to people of Jesus. He promised he would not be ashamed to witness to his Christian faith, even if it meant death.
He found the retreat experience so positive that he asked if he could come back and make retreats a few times a year.
"You are destroying our country," they said. "Your religion is not for us."
Joseph Chiwatenhwa listened to their fears and then he spoke.
"I am a Christian," he said. "Please listen to my story." With gentleness
and the respect due to elders he told them about his life with Jesus. He
"They had come in as wolves," wrote the Jesuits, "but they left as lambs."
Some time later, one of the people came back to the Jesuits' cabin. He was the youngest, a man in his forties. He had stood back while the others complained. In fact, he had been paying attention to the Jesuits for a while. He meditated on what they'd been saying. He asked Joseph Chiwatenhwa if he could talk to him alone. They spent three or four hours together. The elder came back the next day, and the next. The time passed quickly because for him it was not just a person talking, but the Holy Spirit.
He asked the priests to baptize him. His request was so deeply sincere that they agreed he was ready for the sacrament. It took place eight days after Epiphany, the day after the retreat ended. They gave the new Christian the name Louis. They hoped that he, along with Joseph Chiwatenhwa, would be a leader of the Huron church.
O God, at last I start to understand you.
You made the earth which we live in. You made
the sky which we see above us. You
made us, we who are called people.
Now you let me start to know who you really are.
I know how to make a canoe, and how to enjoy
it I know how to build a cabin and how to
live in it. But you... you made us, and you
live in us.
The things we make last for a few seasons. We
only use the canoes we create for a short
time. We only live in the houses we build
for a few years. But your love for us will
endure so long that we cannot count the
time. You will comfort us forever.
As long as we live, how can anyone not
acknowledge you? You are the one who
The time we feel your presence the most is
when we face death You are the one with
the power to keep our souls alive, because
only you know how to love us in the
deepest part of ourselves.
Not even a mother or father can love a human
being the way you do. Your love for us is
so strong that it makes evil spirits lose
Now I begin to see that the reason you made us
is because you want to share your love.
Nothing attracts you as much as your
Thank you for letting me understand you
You love us so deeply that all I can do in return
is offer myself to you I claim you as my
elder and chief There is no one else.
Ask me for anything you want Just let me
always hold you in my heart. I always
want to feel you watching and protecting
I offer you my family. If any evil strikes them
when I am away, I know you will take
care of them Your love is more than I can
ever give them
Thank you ... from my heart.
I see the loving way you lead us along the path
of life. You want what is best for us.
If we have poverty, let us feel your love in it.
If we get rich, do not let comfort make us forget
that we need you Never let us turn into
selfish people. Never let us think we are
better than others who have less.
You love us equally, rich and poor. We are
people, your people, and you love us as
It fills me with joy to know you. I can feel the
presence of your love.
Thank you for letting me give you myself just
as I am
The more I thank you, the more I find I can give
myself to you
Help me let go of the things I used to place my
faith in. All I ask is to be yours.
It would have been enough to give us ~ and
the gifts of the earth Thank you for them
But you've given us much more. In you,
we live forever.
I can hardly imagine what heaven is like, but it
is enough for me to know your love and to
believe in you with all my heart.
You have promised to let us be free spirits in
you, and because I know you love us,
your promise gives me hope.
Help us to welcome suffering fit means we will
know our need of you more deeply. In our
suffering, help us give ourselves to you
We don't have to be afraid to die, because
death is the new birth that lets us live
fully in you
Life is a journey, and with
you as our companion and our
destination, it will end with great joy.
Lord, I am not afraid of death anymore. I will
rejoice when I know the time has come for
me to die.
I do not even want to mourn the passing of my
relatives. All I need to remember is you
are bringing them to be with you in
paradise. You want to take them away so
they can have perfect happiness.
"You're older than I am," he said, "but the grace God gave me in baptism and the feelings that I have for him make me senior to you. I want to tell you how to handle the rumours that are flying around about me. And I want to tell you what the priests have taught me about Jesus and about our souls.
"The things people were saying about me before will get worse now," he explained, "because I'm really starting to know God and I'm not going to spare anything to serve him. I just spent eight days on retreat with the Jesuits. I learned that we owe everything to the Creator, who loves us as his own children. I will do whatever he wants of me, no matter what it costs. I will never be shy to admit that I am a Christian. Even the fear of death will not make me stop talking about the greatness of God.
"Get ready to expect anything, because I'm going to do whatever God asks me to do. Soon people will start up again telling you I am part of the cause of the ruin of the country," he warned his brother. "They'll say the French taught me their secrets and initiated me into their spells."
"Keep in your mind that the one that I acknowledge as my chief and elder will make sure that everything that happens is for my good," Joseph Chiwatenhwa assured Teondechorren. "It's not the same as making me an outcast for practicing witchcraft. Someone accused of being a witch stands alone. I have on my side the all-powerful God. With the Creator's protection, no human and no evil spirit can hurt me.
"I am brave because I know that the angels and saints and our own people who have gone to heaven are praying for me. I have courage because fearing God, I fear nothing."
"I know you think the worst that could happen is that they crack my skull like they do to people accused of witchcraft. But I would be happy to give my life for the one who has loved us so much. Don't worry about it bringing disgrace to our family if I am killed. If God gives our whole nation the faith, then my memory will be honoured," he explained. "People will say that I was the first who preferred to die rather than lose the freedom to live openly as a Christian."
Joseph Chiwatenhwa even asked his brother to rejoice with him in the possibility of his death. "I know you love me, and if you had a little faith, you'd be able to feel good about it if you heard that I died, because you'd know that it means I now possess every good thing that the Creator can give.
"And you would want the same for yourself," he said. "God offers much more than I do, and I love you. I pray to God for you and your wife and children. I hope you will begin to let Jesus come into your lives. If I am in heaven, I will be able to do more for you than I can here. Now I know a lot about you, but then my understanding will be deeper. Also I'll be free to feel more compassion for you. I will know better how to beg God to give you the grace of knowing him."
His brother listened without saying a word. He was surprised by what he was hearing. When Joseph Chiwatenhwa finished, his brother said it was tine, in feasts and councils they were talking a lot about him and the French. People were getting more frustrated. They were planning how to get rid of him. "Don't worry," responded Joseph Chiwatenhwa. "Our lives are in the hands of God."
He saw that he was getting nowhere, so he said, "It is clear that you are not taking seriously what I'm saying to you. Some day you will understand. Now we are like kids. We don't know very much, and we waste a lot of our time. If we don't have faith, our understanding is really limited. When we die, we will see things clearly. We will wake up.
The Spirit blows where it wills. As Joseph Chiwatenhwa got up and started to walk out of the house, he said that no one would force them to become Christian. God, he said, simply sent him to try to help them open their eyes.
The elders asked him questions, and he answered to their satisfaction. Finally one man raised his voice and said, "It sounds like the French have taught you something reasonable. I can see why we should all think about becoming Christians. But the chief has to decide, because he is the one who runs things."
Joseph Chiwatenhwa replied, "If your chiefs are closed to God, why should you suffer?"
He was on fire with the Spirit. Although his words seemed to fall on hearts of stone, they were seeds planted for the Holy Spirit to nourish.
In one house in Ossossane everyone died except a grandmother. Her baptismal name was Anne. The only help she had in her old age was two granddaughters and a niece, and they were dead. Now she tried to look after three small orphaned babies. Because she was Christian, no one would help her. She had almost no food and little firewood, and she too was sick. The Jesuits helped her as she comforted the dying infants.
A page or two later, the Relation describes the suffering of a French teenager who had come to Canada as a volunteer to help the Jesuits. His name was Robert LeCoq. First he lived in Quebec and then he came to Ste-Marie. In the summer of 1639 he went back to Quebec with the traders. He was on some errands for the Jesuits. On the return trip he broke out with smallpox. His head and body were covered with running sores. He was almost unconscious. He was left for dead on a rock at the place where the French River opens into Georgian Bay.
Some people picked him up, but they too abandoned him because they were afraid he would make them sick as well. A Huron whom Robert had nursed back to life the previous year in Quebec happened to pass. He took him to Ste-Marie, where Robert recovered.
As the disease consumed people, hatred of the French and of Christian
faith spread throughout Huronia. The medicine men and women persuaded the
chiefs and elders not to let Christian believers into band council meetings.
They gathered for several days to decide what to do about the crisis.
After the meetings were over, Joseph Chiwatenhwa made a point of talking to the chiefs. "I honour all of you," he began. "I call you all my uncles. However, I have to say that you're acting like children who don't have the ability to think.
"You're following a shaman who is misleading you. He does not have the power to cure this disease. Jesus does not lie. He keeps his promises.
"Yes, I am on the side of the blackrobes. But it is not to destroy the country. I want to help spread the truths that they bring. I'll gladly die for this. I am ready to be burned for it. All I want is to honour the Creator. I don't hope for any good from this world, but only in heaven. Please tell everyone that I am not afraid to die. It is an honour to die for the truth."
He was not ashamed of the gospel. He believed, like Saint Paul, that it is the power of God which leads to salvation.
Wherever he was, he prayed that he would always be conscious of God's presence and act according to God's will.
To prepare a sweat lodge, the Huron would heat large stones in a roaring fire. They would dig a pit and place sticks upright in the ground in a circle around the pit. They bent the sticks toward the middle of the pit and joined them at the top to form a structure about waist high which they covered with skins. They put the hot stones in the centre of the pit. They covered the ground with cedar boughs so the people could sit together. Then their friends outside would close the sweat lodge completely to keep the heat in.
It was dark in the sweat lodge. It was like returning to the womb for a rebirth. When it got too hot the keeper of the lodge would take one of the skins off the top for a while. The people doing the sweat would sing, chant, and pray. The sweat might last as long as two or three hours. After the sweat they usually had a feast.
Once after he came back from a trip to another village, Joseph Chiwatenhwa asked some of his friends in Ossossane to join him in a sweat. During the sweat he prayed to Jesus. He prayed to prepare himself for the possibility of dying in defense of his faith. He made a promise to Jesus to continue announcing his holy name. Thoughts of God filled his heart and came tumbling out in his words and his songs.
One of the Jesuits tells how even one of their little nieces, eight years old, had the courage and freedom to pray, "Lord, you are Master of our lives. I place mine in your hands. All I ask is that I may go to heaven to be with you when I die."
The Jesuits could not have had much of a sense of the role of Native women at its deeper levels in Huron society. They did note, however, that Marie Aonetta was as active a Christian as her husband.
On Shrove Tuesday, 1640, Father Paul Ragueneau learned that a woman in Ossossane lay near death. He rushed to her and as soon as he started to talk of Jesus Christ she embraced the faith and begged for baptism. But at this point her husband barged in.
"I'll never let my wife be baptized," he yelled. "I detest the faith and I curse the God of the believers. Shut up and leave."
The priest tried to reason with him. After all, his wife had the right to be baptized. The man started looking around for his hatchet. He couldn't find it so he grabbed a piece of wood from the fire and began to beat Ragueneau. His stick broke, but he kept bashing the priest with the stub left in his hand. The woman shouted at him to stop, but he was deaf to her cries. Father Paul fled.
The woman was one of Marie Aonetta's cousins. Marie Aonetta visited her a few times, and talked to her about Jesus and Christian faith. She encouraged her to go ahead against her husband's wishes. The faith commitment she would make in baptism, Marie Aonetta said, would be a sign of love that is eternal.
When she saw that a good time had come for the priest to visit she rushed out to get one to come. One of the Jesuits arrived to baptize her cousin. Others in the longhouse did not approve. They believed baptism would cause the woman to die.
"Is that what you want?" they said to Marie Aonetta.
"If she does die," she replied, "it will be a great blessing. I love her as much as myself, my husband, my children, and the others who have received baptism and will profess the faith until they die."
"But what business is it of yours?" they said. "Her salvation is my business," she replied.
'Then take care of her body as well," they told her. They ordered her to take the woman away. They did not want baptized Christians in their house.
"With pleasure," she answered. "When she was healthy my home was always open to her. Now that she is sick, it will not be closed to her. Her brothers are also welcome. If they get really sick, I will arrange their baptism. We'll be one family in heaven, as we are on earth."
A young hunter and warrior named Onourouten lay dangerously ill with smallpox. He asked for baptlsm. Soon after he received the sacrament he was restored to health except that his eyes were still infected and he was blind. He told the priests that he was grateful to God for being healed, but wished he could see.
One of them applied some holy water to his eyes, with the words, "May he whom you have chosen as Lord, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, cure you."
His eye infection and pain cleared up and his sight came back. There were still some sores on his face. The Jesuits left him some holy water to put on them. They told him to invoke the name of the Lord for nine days in honour of the nine choirs of angels. His face cleared up. He held a feast and told everyone that he was grateful to God for his health, his sight, and his life.
There were other healings in the village. One day while a man from this town was fishing he had a vision of a tall handsome young man.
"Don't be afraid," said the young man. "I am the lord of the earth, whom you Hurons honour under the name of Ioueskeha. I am the one the French call Jesus, but they don't truly recognize me. I have pity on your country. I want to protect it. I am coming to teach you the causes and remedy of your epidemic. The foreigners are the cause. Now they are traveling in pairs all over the country to spread the disease. After the smallpox there will be cholics which will carry off everyone who isn't already dead. To prevent further illness, get rid of the blackrobes. Then make a potion and tell the elders to give it out all night, while the kids and the war chiefs run and yell around all the longhouses. Keep this up until dawn."
Then the young man disappeared. The fisherman spread the word and suddenly in spite of the healings the whole village except the man who hosted the Jesuits in his longhouse-turned against them. As if in panic, they went wild. Even those who were cured got carried away.
One explained to a priest, "It didn't cost God anything to restore my sight. I don't owe him anything." They lost consciousness of God's greatness and generosity.
Atironta, the one remaining hospitable member of the community
(he was the first Huron ever to see a Frenchman) used his influence to
call together an assembly of the elders so the Jesuits could give their
side of the story.
By a stroke of good fortune, just at this time Joseph Chiwatenhwa came to the town to help the priests. First, Antoine spoke to the gathering. His speech was so forceful that no one could reply. Then Joseph Chiwatenhwa spent over two hours talking about the mysteries of Christian faith. The elders were surprised to hear a young man, one of their own, speak of these things. They admired him. But although they claimed to recognize what he said as the truth, they only returned to the faith half-heartedly. They did, however, seek baptism for the dying.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa supported the missionaries with zeal and courage. He shared in their suffering. Whenever they decided to travel to another village, he came with them, leaving his wife and family in God's hands, even though the epidemic was afflicting a lot of people in Ossossane. The village considered the whole family to be in league with bad spirits. Marie Aonetta was afraid that her children might be killed, especially if their father went away. Or they might die from illness. If they did, it could be a couple of weeks before he would know it.
He told her, lovingly, "But I am nothing. If my kids get sick, I can feel upset and grieve. But that is nothing. God alone can keep them healthy or restore them to health, as he pleases. We must try to return his love by pleasing him in our action.
"That is why I am leaving now. It is his will. He will look after the family. And besides, some of the Jesuits are staying here with you. Be at peace."
Before he left he made the sacrament of reconciliation and received communion. Then he knelt in his longhouse and prayed to God to protect his family. He literally placed them in God's loving hands.
In one town a young man became so enraged that he threw burning sticks from the fire at everyone. People hid from him. He came after the missionaries, but they had moved into another house. He followed them there, and they left. People who on an earlier visit had felt attracted to the Christian faith now rejected them.
A woman said, "Where are the guys who promised to split the blackrobes' heads if they returned?" Children screamed at them as if they were evil medicine.
At dusk they left the village. Some young men followed them. Their hatchets were out, ready to follow the chiefs' order and kill the Christians.
Jerome wrote that the Christian group stayed ahead of the posse. "However," he added, "I'm not sure whether it was good fortune or bad. Perhaps our blood would do more for the conversion of these peoples than all our sweat." He meant that a person who died for the faith would be a martyr. The blood that martyrs drop on the ground, like the blood and water that flowed from the side of Jesus on the cross, is said to be the seeds from which the church grows.
The chief of that village found the missionaries the next day. He apologized for the threats, but he did not seem sincere. He suggested that the Christians were causing unnecessary trouble. "Maybe," he said, "the things of faith are not all that important."
Joseph Chiwatenhwa replied: "You chiefs are really the ones who don't know what's important." he said. "You have destroyed our country by separating us from the teachings of our own ancestors. I'm the one people call the believer. They think they curse me, but that name is my greatest honour."
He explained what it means to live for the things that are important in the kingdom of God. "Our thoughts," he said, "usually only go as far as this life. Believers base their hopes on an eternity of good things. You're driving out people who love you more than they love themselves. Their lives are less precious to them than your salvation."
The Christians knew that they could be killed anytime. Someone bringing food could easily poison them. Or someone could kill them on the trail and make it look like the work of an enemy, for during the summer and fall it was common for enemy warriors to lie in wait in the bush outside the villages.
Jerome Lalemant wrote about it to his superior in Quebec. He was sad to lose this friend who served his beloved Lord with such great commitment. Yet he knew that his power to bring others to Jesus would grow now that he was with God.
Jerome's letter honours the heroic devotion and holiness of Joseph
The last of the trading canoes are about to leave
They're just waiting so we can send you some shocking news which fills us with wonder at the workings of divine Providence.
I was getting ready to write a letter for our good Christian Joseph Chiwatenhwa to bring to you in person, but now it happens that the letter he was to bring in fact bears the news of his death.
Yesterday evening he was working out in the field, cutting wood. Two Iroquois enemies of the Huron jumped out of the bush where they were hiding. They rushed him and stabbed him with a javelin.
They knocked him out with a couple of blows from a hatchet. They cut off his scalp to carry to their country as a trophy. Then they fled.
When he was late getting home people became suspicious. They went to look for him.
They found his body lying on the ground, covered with blood.
He was dead.
It looks like he put up a struggle. The elders of the village went to the spot. They judged by the footprints and the way the corn was trampled that he had fought. It seems the enemy would not have been able to kill him without the long spear.
His death was sudden, but he was spiritually prepared for it.
He was continually in the grace of God. This is confirmed by his spiritual guides and confessors.
They were astonished at the insights God gave him about sin. They admired the sensitivity of his conscience and his faithfulness in responding to God's grace.
The very morning of his death he had knelt in his long house and as usual he commended his soul to God. He offered himself and his whole family to do whatever the Lord might want.
He left his house around noon with three of his little nieces to go out to the fields. Along the way he was telling them stories of the faith when they got to the field they were all struck by how abundant the harvest was.
"Let's kneel," Joseph Chiwatenhwa said, "and give thanks to God for these good things that God gives us. It is the least we can do, since he pours out his blessings on us all the time."
After they prayed he got them to harvest some squash and then right away he sent them to carry it back home. He warned them that it wasn't safe around there.
He said he was going into the bush to cut some cedar so he could finish making the canoe that would take him to Quebec.
He said he'd stay out the rest of the day.
That is where he met death a few hours later.
Last Sunday he had come to our house, now about five kilometres from his, with Aonetta and their two remaining children, to offer devotions. They went to confession and received communion. Then they offered to the Lord the first products of the harvest from the field where he would be killed.
God no doubt accepted both the gift and Joseph. For he found him ripe for heaven, and a few days later gathered him from the garden of the church on earth and put him with the communion of saints in heaven.
Anyone who has read earlier Relations and the one for this year won't have any trouble believing that God will continue to shower his mercies as much and more, at the hour of death, as he had done during Joseph Chiwatenhwa's life.
Those who knew this Christian best tell me that he had an almost continual sense of the presence of God, that in everything he acted with intentions worthy of a heart that is truly Christian.
They say that if at any time his mind strayed in the least from the path of the saints, he quickly found himself again and was upset by slight faults as if they were crimes against the love of the Creator without whose love he
would not be able to so much as draw breath for a single moment.
As for me, I can honestly say that I admired in him from day to day the powerful effects of the grace which totally took over his heart. All I want after this life is to be in the place where I certainly believe his soul is.
It is true that we had high hopes for him as a teacher of the Christian faith among the Native people. In this past year he has made himself their apostle.
But since the saints have more power when they are in heaven than they do while on earth, we should believe that his death is a gift rather than a loss. In time we shall see what it will produce.
Time is pressing as the canoes are about to leave so I will break off here.
I'll say no more, even though there is lots I could add which would not have been appropriate to make public about a person before his death. Since Joseph's death was crowned with the gift of perseverance in the faith, I wish I had time to add them here so all the world could see that God deserves to be admired in his saints, here as anywhere else.
But even if these things are not known on earth they will be in heaven.
There we shall not cease to bless God for his mercies on this country and its spiritual teachers.
Please continue to say mass for us and to pray for us.
Your humble and obedient servant in God,
August 3, 1640.
He knew Jesus as a person, and his personal life witnessed to
his friendship with the Lord. His response to Christ was not only generous
but total. Like Jesus, he incarnated the truth in his whole being. He was
conscious of God because of the life-changes he experienced within himself.
Always a loving man, he grew in the capacity for sacrifice and devotion. His heroic service to the Word incarnate showed how God awakened his capacity for selfless love and the freedom to give of himself to others. He responded to God as a whole person, with his feelings, his spirit, his mind, his body, and
ultimately his life itself.
They supported each other not only as believers but as catechists and teachers of the new way that had come into the lives of the Natives with the power to uplift and purify their spirituality. Their love had endured the toughest suffering anyone can experience- watching helplessly while not one but several children wasted away, devoured by horrible diseases Natives had never known before. They stood by each other, strengthened by their faith in Jesus and their conviction that the teachings of their elders were to be fulfilled in the new age of Christian faith.
When people broke the news of her husband's death to Marie Aonetta she went into shock. Her mind went blank and she could not speak. But as soon as she started to come to herself she received a wonderful gift.
She heard her beloved husband's voice say to her, "This is the will of the Lord for our lives. What will our response be?"
It was almost as if her husband was playing with her mind in a familiar act of love to help her stay calm. For she knew the answer to his question. Like her husband, her will was to accept the mysterious will of God as the most loving fulfillment of their lives. She offered her grief to the Lord. She was strong. She did not waver in her devotion to Jesus.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa did not have time for a death feast. We do not know whether there was a wake service. It is certain that he had a Catholic funeral on the day after he died. He was buried in ground consecrated by the priests for the burial of Christians. Unfortunately we do not know where the grave is. His spirit, we can be sure, is with God.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa had seemed destined for a long life of service to God in the new Native church. His death at about the age of 38 seemed a tragic loss. Jean de Brebeuf, who himself would later be recognized as a saint, was at his funeral. Jean wrote about it in his journal. It was, for him, an occasion of deep mystical prayer. He believed that in spirit Joseph Chiwatenhwa had found a home with God.
On the 4th of August, having returned from the burial of our zealous
Christian, during my evening prayer of examen, I had several visions. I
don't recall the first one at all. The second made me see a pavilion or
scend from the sky and settle on the grave of our Christian. Then it seemed that people rolled up the ends of the pavilion and drew it upwards as if they wanted to raise it to the sky. I did not see it rise nor the persons who lifted it.
The vision lasted a while and ended there. I felt then that God wanted to let us know his will for the soul of this good Christian.
So there will always be uncertainty about his death. With the
evidence long shrouded in the mists of history, the most we know is that
he confessed faith in Jesus without fear of losing his life for his faith.
Perhaps the mystery is for the best. Joseph Chiwatenhwa knew the lesson
Jesus taught on the cross. The road to God is the way of forgiveness. He
would have forgiven his murderers even before they killed him, and he would
not want their names, whether Iroquois or Huron, to live on in infamy.
Joseph Chiwatenhwa had walked all over Huron country encouraging devotion to the Creator. It was natural to think his death would be a setback. But it seems God had other plans.
For, Jerome continues, "far from the faith having received harm from this blow, in the hearts of believers it seems to have become stronger than before."
Other people in the family found that Joseph Chiwatenhwa's voice came back to them. They mulled over the conversations they had with him while he lived. His death affected them. Now they seemed to understand better what he said about Christian faith.
Three days after his murder, Joseph Chiwatenhwa's brother Teondechorren had a change of heart. He came to the Jesuits and begged them to baptize him! He had learned his lessons well six months earlier, even though he rejected them at the time. Now he was ready; he acknowledged that the Holy Spirit moved within him and he sought to grow in friendship with Jesus. A few days later, on the feast of the birth of Our Lady, he embraced Christ in the sacrament of baptism.
He had come to his faith from a different life story, however. Years before, when he was about twenty, he had become fascinated by the firewalkers. They were a society of Hurons who could handle burning coals and even put them in their mouths without injury. They could walk through fire or plunge their hands into boiling maple sap or water without pain or blisters. When he first tried touching live coal he got burned, so he learned to avoid touching anything too hot. But he kept trying so he could pretend that he too had the gift of the firewalkers.
Then he dreamed that he was at a medicine ceremony where he handled fire like the others. In the dream he heard a song. He remembered it when he woke up. At the next fire ritual he sang it. Slowly he moved into a trance. He picked up burning embers and hot stones with his hands and his teeth. To his surprise he suffered no injury or pain. He stuck his bare arm into a boiling kettle without getting scalded. He had become a master of this medicine. He could use his power to heal the sick.
His initiation into the mysteries of Christian faith meant that from now on his prayers to God, the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit, would be the source of his power.
His death had come at a time when the village council of Ossossane decided they should move. About every ten or twelve years the fields would begin to lose their fertility. By moving to a new site they gave the forest time to regenerate and restore the power of the soil to grow good crops. Each village had about five sites they occupied in a rotation of roughly fifty years.
When the Christian community had begun to prepare for the move Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa had offered to put the new Christian chapel in their longhouse. It had been under construction when he died. The first mass was celebrated there October 14, 1640. Joseph Teonderchorren took on the job of parish administrator. Whenever the priests were away at Ste-Marie or at another village he held the key to the chapel. The Christians gathered there every morning and evening to pray.
Rene Tsondihwane made several eight-day retreats at the mission. He, llke his friend Joseph Chiwatenhwa, showed by his life that he was being taught by the Holy Spirit.
"Sometimes I have trouble sleeping and I wake up at night," he
told one of the Jesuits. "I think of God. Then I find I don't even notice
the hours go by. I feel better than if I had slept soundly. I don't know
who puts in my heart
the thoughts I find there, but I couldn't put into words what my heart tells me.
Rene Tsondihwane would spend hours in the chapel. If he found that his body distracted his mind and spirit while he was conversing with God, he would practice small mortifications to gain self-control.
One of the priests went to offer consolation when he heard the little girl died. He was too late, for God had already touched Joseph Teondechorren's heart in his grief.
"It seems to me," he said, "that I see my daughter in front of
me. She is full of joy. Her death consoles me even more than her life.
My mind is not upset, because a while ago I gave her to God. She belongs
to him more than me.
This life on earth is just a shadow of our union with the Creator in eternity."
His faith, spirit, and zeal were so much like his brother's that
the Christians came to believe that his conversion was a gift from heaven.
His changed way of life and his talks about the things of faith made people
what had happened to him.
He would reply, 'Just believe for yourselves and your experience will show you better than my words. God and I seem to be as one. Either he follows me, or I find him wherever I go!"
She died on the feast day of the saint she was named after. At the funeral her mother noticed some of their relatives stop at the grave of Joseph Chiwatenhwa, now dead for two and a half years. They were weeping. Marie Aonetta got upset.
"What good are these tears?" she asked. "Let's try to follow these people to heaven and gather there as a whole family of saints. If we serve God well and show our Christian faith to people who don't have it yet, our hope of heaven will be all we need to dry our tears."
In Quebec Tsondatsaa met the governor, Charles de Montmagny, who liked his lively mind and offered to be his godfather. Jean agreed it was time for his baptism. He took the baptismal name of his sponsor, Charles.
Upon returning to Ossossane Charles Tsondatsaa invited people to a feast. He made a speech, focusing especially on the chiefs.
"My brothers," he said, "I would rather die than give up my faith. I have committed myself totally to the Creator. The spirit of evil shall have no power over me."
He had some challenges to face. One of his nephews became seriously
ill. Another drowned. A niece started having hysterical seizures. Some
of his relatives quarrelled so violently they nearly killed each other.
Through these trials he simply continued to pray and trust God. The quarrels
The niece's hysteria calmed down. The news of the nephew's drowning turned out to be false. The sick nephew got better. Charles Tsondatsaa promised to build a larger chapel in OSsossane as a way of thanking God for these favours.
He showed his devotion in many ways.
One evening he came home to the longhouse and found his five-year-old niece was seriously sick. People were weeping because she seemed to be dying. She had not been baptized. This upset Charles Tsondatsaa. She could die before the morning and there was no priest who could baptize her in Ossossane that night.
He gathered the Christians. "Doesn't anybody know the words for a baptism?" he asked them.
"I remember them," Joseph Teondechorren said.
"Let's go," said Charles Tsondatsaa.
They went to the longhouse and prayed. Then Joseph Teondechorren baptized the little girl.
"Let's stop weeping," he said. "She is safe. If she dies she will pray for us in heaven. I have four children in paradise. I invoke their names with consolation."
The next day as the Christians gathered for morning prayer they learned that she had started to recover. The believers praised God for this manifestation of his power.
Charles Tsondatsaa was a catechist. Once as he finished talking with some people about God's goodness and power, he looked at one of the chiefs who had listened to him. "If I gave myself to you," he said, "would you have the courage to throw me into danger, knowing it could destroy me? Christians tell God every day in their prayers to dispose of their souls and their lives according to his will. His heart is greater than yours. How could he betray us? He protects and preserves us.
He urged them to remain faithful. "Let's never lose the grace
we received in the sacred waters of baptism. It is the pledge of our salvation
and the beauty of our spirits. It removed the stain of sin. It drove away
evil spirits. Pray for help from heaven and the angels. If we are attacked,
let's not forget to pray."
He invited everyone in the group that was making the voyage to offer themselves to the Creator once again. "Here and now, offer everything to God, that he may turn all to his glory," he said.
The people clapped. Then they got on their knees and with one heart offered their whole lives to Jesus Christ. The priest Jerome Lalemant made a sign of blessing over them.
They reached Quebec about five weeks later.
Therese Oionhaton was a high-energy girl with a lot of talent.
She spoke excellent French and she picked up the skills of reading and
writing from the nuns without any trouble. She was also highly spiritual;
she would spend whole days in silent prayer. The nuns could see that God
had given her a special gift
of faith. The Indians agreed; she was already considered an elder. People came to her for spiritual advice.
Now it was time for her to go back home. On July 28 she set out with the men who had come from Ossossane and Teanaustaye to return home.
"Tell my family," he said, "that if they love me I want them to
accept Jesus as their saviour and to give praise to the Creator. He is
invisible to our eyes, but we experience him in the depth of our souls
when we let him come
into our lives. Tell them that I am totally convinced about this. Tell them I want to be united with them forever as followers of the God that I want to live for, and die for."
Less than a day after they left Three Rivers Iroquois warriors rushed out of the reeds along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River and overpowered the whole group. They killed some of the Huron. They captured Eustace Ahatsistari, Joseph Teonderchorren, Charles Tsondatsaa, and Therese Oionhaton, as well as the Jesuit priest Isaac Jogues.
As the summer wore on into fall, the people waiting for them in Huronia knew they would not come back. The Huron church seemed to be doomed.
A year later Joseph Teondechorren escaped from his captors in New York state. He walked back to his own land. He told the Christians about his experience as a prisoner.
He lived in a Mohawk village with several other Huron captives. They kept their friendship with Jesus secret from their captors.
They would gather in the street and pray the rosary in their own language without anyone else noticing.
"I used my fingers to recite the rosary," he said. "I used to examine my conscience and confess to God just as if a priest were there."
Joseph Teondechorren's suffering seemed to bring him closer to the Creator. "In my heart I conversed with God all the time as if we were a couple of friends carrying on a conversation together. This kept me from giving up. God saved my life."
He travelled to Quebec City and visited the nuns once again. They wanted news of Therese Oionhaton.
"She is okay," he told them. "She prays all the time. She is sad but she manages to endure."
In 1646 she was forced to marry a man of the village that had adopted her.
Isaac Jogues was also able to escape, but he returned to Iroquois
country as a free man a year or so later. He tried to negotiate the release
of Therese Oionhaton on behalf of the governor of Quebec, but the Mohawks
said, "No way.
She remained devout. Another Jesuit missionary, Simone LeMoine, saw. her in 1654. She told him that she had been talking about Jesus to a Neutral girl who had recently come to the village as a prisoner. Simon asked if she baptized the girl.
"I didn't know I could unless she was dying," she replied. "Baptize her yourself and give her my name." He did. It was the first baptism in that village.
A year later, we read in the Jesuit Relations, she walked about six kilometres with a baby in her arms because she had heard that two Jesuits, Pierre Chaumonot and Claude Dablon, were in the area and she wanted to meet them.
At that point this heroic woman with her great gift of Christian faith fades from the records of written history.
Some people moved for safety to Christian Island in Georgian Bay. Others went further on to Manitoulin Island. Eventually they split up and left the area completely.
Some Hurons moved to Ancienne Lorette near Quebec City, and others went to Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.
They were a spiritually powerful people. Christian faith took root among them, and it grew into today's Native church. It was watered by the suffering and the blood of the Huron people.
Their contribution to our lives deserves recognition because more than ever the world needs the gifts of the Native people.
In his travels around the world the Pope gives special attention to aboriginal peoples. He has acknowledged that the spirituality of Native Canadians was richer than the early missionaries perhaps realized. And, like many people today, Pope John Paul has said that the world needs to learn from the Native peoples the reverence for nature and community that more "developed" societies have lost.
When the early Natives opened their hearts to Jesus, they did it in a total way. They served him fully in the lay state. They are the seeds from which not only the Native church of today has grown, but also the whole church in North America.
People who struggle to allow Christian faith to blossom within revitalized Native cultures may find help and support by asking these people to intercede with God for them. Non-Native Christians who find healing qualities in Native cultures may find their intercession fruitful. Perhaps Joseph Chiwatenhwa and his family and friends will help people get healed from disease.
As devotion to these holy people grows the Holy See under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of the Saints will examine their lives from the historical record. They will also look at any reports that people have been helped by their prayers.
Eventually the church may bestow its greatest honour on the early Huron Christians by bestowing on them the title of "Blessed" or "Saint". Such recognition of these Natives would be a way for the church of the whole world to honour all the Native people of Canada. It is recognition that the person received special spiritual gifts and performed great acts of devotion to God while he or she lived on earth. And it is recognition that the person hears our petitions and intercedes for us with God.
Saints will be remembered long after rock stars, politicians, and sports heroes are forgot ten. For they are people who undeniably participated in God's kingdom of love, peace, and justice while they were with us on earth. We believe that as they wait to greet us in heaven, they continually pray to the great three-in-one God for our benefit.
Please send details about petitions granted through the intercession
of Joseph Chiwatenhwa, Marie Aonetta, and companions to:
Anishinabe Spiritual Centre,
P.O. Box 665,