Dominicans on the side of the underdog for 500 years

  • September 8, 2010
DominicansTORONTO - This year marks 500 years of the Dominicans fighting for the rights of the underdog in the Americas.

“The Dominican order in the Americas has promoted justice, education and intellectual life all over the Americas,” said Dominican Friar Marcos Ramos, superior of the Dominicans’ Aquinas House in Toronto.

“The first group of Dominicans went to Hispaniola (now known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti). It was a group of friars… who began doing the mission work there in 1510. And when they arrived they started to see the treatment of the indigenous people who were being exploited.

“This began a conversation on the rights of the indigenous people,” Ramos said. “Dominican Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas began preaching against the slavery of the indigenous people and protesting against African slavery.”

According to The Story of Christianity by Justo González, de Las Casas spent 39 years advocating for the indigenous people — partly through direct appeals and partly through his writings.

Dominican Brother Maxime Allard, who lectures at Dominican College in Ottawa, said the order has always had a strong sense of social justice.

“Very early on Dominicans in the Americas used their belief in the Gospel to preach justice when it was not being done,” he said.

It goes back to the order’s origins, said Allard. St. Dominic felt there was a need to go to the people and preach the word of God, considering the situation of the state and the Church in the 13th century.

“It’s about making the truth of what Catholics are about known and making people think about it.”

The order has also played a key role in education in the Americas. Allard said the Dominicans have started universities in different places around the world, including Latin America.

“We’ve been very present in the intellectual world trying to make sense of the Gospel in the tradition of the Catholic Church in the new context of the Americas,” he said.

But Allard said this milestone has more than historic value for Dominicans in Canada — its origins also offers an example of how fewer brothers can still make a difference.

“There were 30 Dominicans… in what is now the Dominican Republic area and they managed to have a very significant impact on the Church and society then,” said Allard.

While the Dominicans are used to having high numbers in North America, membership is on the decline. Allard said there are currently about 120 Dominicans in Canada, located in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

“We have to think now in terms of what we can do when we’re few. The example of what happened 500 years ago in the Dominican Republic can be an inspiration for us today,” he said.

Allard calls this 500-year mark the “first wave” of Dominicans, with most ministering in Central America and Latin America. The second wave, which hit Canada, came in the last century.

The 100th anniversary of the order’s arrival in Canada will be celebrated in 2011.

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