500th Anniversary of Dominican Presence in the Western Hemisphere
In Defense of Human Dignity – on the 500th Anniversary of the Preaching of the Dominican Friars in Hispaniola
Sunday, December 18 - 4th Sunday of Advent
The General Chapter of the Dominican Order which took place in Rome in 2010 asks all friars of the Order “on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2011 to read or preach on the sermon proclaimed by Antonio de Montesinos in Hispaniola in 1511, so that there might be a collective recollection of this event which defended, in the name of the Church, human dignity” (n. 171, Acts of General Elective Chapter of the Order of Preachers, Rome 2010.) 
The General Chapter also acknowledged that “the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the community of Hispanola and the sermon of Antonio de Montesinos is an excellent example of the essential relationship between the community and the preaching, of the prophetic force of Dominican preaching that, lamentably, we do not always exercise with the same evangelical vigor” (n. 52, ACTS 2010.) 
The recollection of this momentous event is not merely or simply a backward glance of pride, but it is also, as the capitulars of Rome noted, a call for a self-evaluation that reinvigorates our sense of mission. In this sense, the DSPT mission to engage the contemporary culture in “mutual enrichment” reminds us of the essential connection between the community and the preaching, between our study and our duty to proclaim the dignity of each person.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Members of the Dominican Family in the Americas commemorated the 500th anniversary of a homily preached by Fr. Montesinos, OP, during the Advent Liturgy in 1511, where he denounced the immoral treatment of the indigenous people of the Americas by the Spaniards.
Shortly after their arrival in Hispaniola in September 1510, the Dominican friars were confronted with an intense moral dilemma. Juan Garcés, a Spaniard who was being sought by the civil authorities because he had killed his Indian wife, confessed to the friars not only this grave sin but also the great atrocities that he and others had committed on the native peoples there. He asked for and received asylum from the friars, during which time he conveyed to them the details of the situation. Combining his stories with their own further research, the friars agreed to make a public denouncement of these activities in the form of a sermon. After everyone had signed the text, they designated Antonio Montesinos, OP to preach it at the High Mass on 21 Dec 1511. Only a portion of the original sermon has survived, but it reflects well the overall intention.
In the audience that twenty-first day of December was one Bartholomé de las Casas, a slaveholder. The words of Montesinos ignited within him a conversion that led not only to the divestment of all his slaves but also to his entry into the Dominican Order, where he became an ardent defender of the rights of the Indians.
Preaching by Antón de Montesinos, OP translated by Fr. David Orique, OP 
“So that you might know why I have stood up here. I am that voice of Christ in the desert of this island. Therefore, it would be wise for you to pay attention with all your heart and with all your senses. Listen here to what will be the most novel thing that you have heard, to the sharpest and harshest as well as most frightful and dangerous issue that you have ever heard. This voice declares that you are all in mortal sin, live in it, and die in it, because of the cruel and tyrannical treatment that you inflict on these innocent people.
With want right and by what justice do you have these Indians in horrible and cruel servitude? With what authority have you waged these detestable wars against the gentle and peaceful people of these lands, where so many are killed and slaughtered in unheard of ways? How is it that you have oppressed and wearied them, without giving them food nor curing their infirmities, and from the excessive work that you inflict on them they die on you; yet, better to say, that you kill them by taking and acquiring gold every day?
What concern do you have for them so as to teach them that they might know their God and Creator, might be baptized, go to Mass, celebrate feast days and Sundays?
These people, are they not human? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not obliged to love them as yourselves? Do you not understand this? Do you not feel this? How is it that you are in such a profound sleep and lethargic slumber? You must be certain that in your current state you will not be able to be saved any more than … who lack and do not want the faith of Jesus Christ.”
 English translation by Christopher Renz, OP (Academic Dean, Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology), from the Spanish original Acts of General Elective Chapter of the Order of Preachers, Rome 2010. Back to text
 English translation by David Orique, OP, PhD (a DSPT alumnus and member of the Western Dominican Province, who is currently serving as Assistant Professor of History, Department of History, Providence College), from the Spanish original found in Bartolomé de Las Casas, Historia de las Indias (André Saint-Lu, ed. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1986), 110: 13-14. Back to text