Roque Gonzalez was born at Asuncion, the capitol of Paraguay, in 1576, the son of noble Spanish parents. He spoke the local language Guaraní fluently from an early age. He was ordained a priest when he was twenty-three, but he felt unworthy of the priesthood. He began to take an interest in the Indians of Paraguay, seeking them out in remote places to preach to and instruct them in Christianity. After ten years, to get more opportunity for missionary work, he joined the Society of Jesus in 1609.
This was the time of the beginnings of the famous Reductions of Paraguay, which were settlements of Christian Indians run by the Jesuits, who looked on themselves not as rulers of the Indians, but as their guardians.
Fr Roque worked for nearly twenty years with the Guaraní, with considerable opposition from the European colonists. For three years he was in charge of the Reduction of St Ignatius, and then he spent the rest of his life establishing six more settlements in the unexplored regions east of the Parana and Uruguay rivers. He became the first European person to enter the region known today as the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.
In 1628 Fr Roque was joined by two young Spanish Jesuits, and together they founded a new reduction near the Ijuhi river and then another at Caaro near the border with Brazil. Here they were opposed by a powerful “medicine man”, and the Mission was soon under attack. Fr Roque was getting ready to hang a small church bell when the raiding party arrived; one man stole up from behind and killed him with blows on the head from a tomahawk. Fr Rodriguez heard the noise and, coming to the door of his hut to see what it was about, met the bloodstained savages who knocked him down. “What are you doing, my sons?” he exclaimed. But he was silenced by further blows. The wooden chapel was set on fire and the two bodies thrown into the flames. It was 15 November 1628. Two days later the Mission at Ijuhi was attacked; Fr Castillo was seized and bound, barbarously beaten, and stoned to death.
Roque Gonzalez, Alonso Rodrigues and Juan de Castillo were canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.
The 1986 Academy Award winning movie The Mission is based loosely around the life of St Roque Gonzalez.