Argentine bishops welcome Vatican recognition of priests' 1683 martyrdom

The Martyrs of Zenta. The Martyrs of Zenta. | Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Orán.

Bishops in Argentina have welcomed the promulgation of a decree by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that regards the martyrdom of Pedro Ortiz de Zárate and Juan Antonio Solinas, priests who were killed Oct. 27, 1683.

Fr. Ortiz de Zárate, a diocesan priest, and Fr. Solinas, a Jesuit, were evangelizing the indigenous populations of the Valle del Zenta in the Viceroyalty of Peru, now part of Argentina, when they were beheaded by members of the Toba and Mocoví peoples.

Fr. Ortiz de Zárate was born in what is now Argentina in 1626. He married and had two children, but became a widower and entrusted them to a grandmother, intending to become a priest. He was ordained a priest around 1657. He was a parish priest in Jujuy for 24 years.

Fr. Solinas was born in Italy, and made religious profession in the Society of Jesus in 1665, and was ordained a priest in 1673. His first apostolate began in 1678 at the Reduction of Itapúa.

The two priests were assigned to the mission of Chaco in 1683. Together with 18 laity, some of whom were indigenous, they were massacred by a group of some 150 natives on Oct. 27. Their remains were found the following day by witnesses who narrated the event. 

Their cause was opened in 1988. The 18 lay persons were originally included, though they were expelled in 2002 for lack of documentation.

The congregation said in its decree that “the Servants of God were aware of the risks that their mission entailed, ready to be witnesses to the very last of the Gospel message they were spreading.”

The priests’ martyrdom was recognized by an Oct. 13 decree of the congregation, which also recognized miracles attributed to the intercession of two Venerables, and the heroic virtues of four Servants of God.

Bishop Luis Antonio Scozzina of Orán noted that since the slayings, the faithful have made a pilgrimage in October of each year from Pichanal to the site of the martyrdom.

The recognition of the priests’ martyrdom in a diocese "that has five different ethnic groups, with more than 120 native communities in the territory, where a good part of these communities identify with the Catholic faith,” is "an opportunity to renew this alliance at the service of the native communities, a great challenge, " Bishop Scozzina told the AICA news agency.

The Aboriginal Pastoral Ministry has gained momentum and has made "a long journey of accompaniment in the defense of aboriginal rights, with a great presence in the midst of the communities," he stressed.

The Bishops’ Delegate for the Causes of Saints and the Military Bishop of Argentina, Santiago Olivera, noted that before Argentina was a country,  “men and women, also lay people, shed their blood for the faith, for fraternity, for the encounter” between peoples.

"May this be the commitment of all of us who joyfully” receive the news of this decree “to be able to give up our own lives for our convictions, our beliefs, for the faith, for the love of Jesus Christ, for the love of the Church."

Bishop Olivera said that the decree is a cause for joy and gratitude also for "so many men and women who in our country, and before it became a nation, signed with their lives the faith they professed with their lips."

"We thank God for these men who throughout the country are showing us that holiness is possible, that we must all travel that road and they are thankful that we too are always on the road," Bishop Olivera said.

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