UCAN Spirituality Catholic Church News

St João de Brito (John de Brito)

Portugal and India

João de Brito was born into a powerful Portuguese family in Lisbon in 1647. He joined the Jesuits in 1662 and in 1673 began his missionary work in the missions of southern India. He dressed in a saffron cloak and turban and lived like an ascetic, abstaining from every kind of animal food and from wine, adopting local customs, and giving himself the Tamil name Arul Anandar. After ten years of preaching, he was imprisoned and forced to return to Portugal. Undeterred, he asked to go back to south India in 1690, bringing 24 new missionaries with him.

Following the example of St Roberto de Nobili, who founded the Madurai Mission in 1606, João de Brito practised a culture-sensitive evangelization: he used local concepts and images in his teaching. He established a small retreat in the wilderness and was in time accepted as a holy man, a pandaraswami.

His preaching led to the conversion of a local prince, Tadaya Theva, who was then required to dismiss all his wives but one. One of the dismissed wives, however, was a niece of the neighbouring Raja of Marava. He then began a general persecution of Christians. As a result,.de Brito and his catechists were captured, and de Brito was brought to Oriyur, where he was executed by beheadingon 11 February 1693. Reaching the spot selected for his martyrdom, he knelt down in prayer. When the executioner hesitated to do his job, João encouraged him, ‘My friend, I have prayed to God. On my part, I have done what I should do. Now do your part. Carry out the order you have received.’ He was 45 years old.