Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dominican Dispute

The famous Spanish Dominican missionary Fr. Antonio Montesinos stayed on Puerto Rico in 1514 en route to his mission in Venezuela. In 1519 Pope Leo X declared Puerto Rico the Church's headquarters in the New World and Bishop Alonso Manso was appointed Inquisitador-General of the Indies. Bishop Manso established a school of advanced studies and built two hospitals in Puerto Rico.  He oversaw the construction of the Cathedral of San Juan in 1521.   

Ponce de León traveled to Florida during this time to continue his explorations of the New World, but was mortally wounded by a native arrow.  He returned to Puerto Rico where he died and was buried at the church of San José in 1521.  That same year six Dominican Friars came to form community in Puerto Rico.  A settlement attempted at Caparra had been attacked and burned to the ground by Carib natives and French pirates just a few years earlier.  The family and neighbors of Ponce de León helped them to build Santo Domingo convent out of solid brick and stone.  The settlers wanted to ensure the safety of the Friars.  The first prior at Santa Domingo was Fr. Luis Cancer de Barbastro who later followed in the footsteps of Ponce de Leon to Florida and was martyred by natives in 1549. 

The guidelines of the fledgling community of Santo Domingo followed the process established in Hispaniola that called for learning the language of the natives so as to describe Christian doctrine to them in words they could understand. The Friars also adopted the ethic of Hispaniola of committing themselves to defend the natives against mistreatment and injustices. 

In 1528 the community at Santo Domingo numbered 25 monks leading the full Dominican life of silence, prayer, study and an intense preaching in the city and in the towns.  In that year the Friars were granted alms to build another convent and a Church. The Friars decided to make the convent less formal so it could be opened it up as a hospice and place of welcome for waves of religious missionaries who were being sent to the New World from other islands and Europe.  They built a beautiful Gothic church with striking tiles that could be used for catechesis of the natives.  At that time the church and convent the Friars dedicated to Santo Tomás de Aquino were considered the best built structures in the New World.   

The island of Puerto Rico became a popular layover for all dignitaries and religious traveling among the islands of the Caribbean, and the Friars were obliged to build a smaller convent for their own use San Germán de Añasco.  On January 1532, Pope Clement VII granted the Friars permission to have a University at Santo Domingo in Puerto Rico and they began to receive vocations and educate them in theology, science and letters. Soon after the founding of the university a disagreement erupted. 

The kernel of the matter was this.  Bishop Rodrigo de Bastidas of Colombia deplored the fact that the Dominican convent and church were sturdier constructions than the Cathedral which was made of wood and tapia.  The Bishop filed a complaint with the Spanish Court charging that the Friars had lost their perspective of the vow of poverty.  The Friars maintained that both the church and convent were used by guests and visitors to the island and the cows, horses and sugar refineries they owned were employed for the benefit of all of the inhabitants of the island.