(The Sacred Art Series will feature and explain the artwork which will be included in the Our Lady of Belen Chapel. The chapel is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021. This painting was commissioned to Spanish artist Raúl Berzosa and will be included in one of the side chapels.)
St. Roque González de Santa Cruz was born in Asunción, Paraguay on November 17, 1576. He was the son of Spanish colonists of noble families. Due to the large native population in the region, he spoke Guaraní fluently from an early age, as well as his native Spanish.
In 1598, at the age of 23, González was ordained a priest and in 1609, became a member of the Society of Jesus. He began his work as a missionary in what is now Brazil. He became the first European person to enter the region known today as the State of Rio Grande do Sul, extending the system of Jesuit reductions begun in Paraguay to that region.
Throughout the years, González led the founding of the Reductions of San Ignacio Miní, Itapúa (now the city of Posadas in Argentina), Concepción de la Sierra, Candelaria, San Javier Yapeyú, San Nicolás, Asunción del Ijuí, and Caaró.
In the region of Ijuí, González enraged the local chieftain and sorcerer (cacique) Ñezú. On November 15, 1628, while preparing to oversee the installation of a new bell for the church at the Mission of Todos los Santos de Caaró, he was struck down and killed with a tomahawk by order of the local chieftain.
Roque González was beatified by Pope Piux XI in 1934 and canonized on May 16, 1988, by Pope St. John Paul II in Asunción, thus becoming the first native of Paraguay to be declared a saint by the Catholic Church. He has been named the patron saint of the cities of Posadas, Argentina, and Encarnación, Paraguay.
Banner: The banner over the head of the saint references a phrase written to his brother in a letter. Nosotros trabajamos por la justicia (We work for justice) refers to the work the Jesuits did in the reductions, protecting the native Indian population from the Spanish and Portuguese slave traders.
Angels: The angel on the top right holds a palm branch, a symbol of martyrdom. The two angels below are depicted as indigenous children. One holds an image of Our Lady of the Miracles of Caacupé, patroness of Paraguay, of which Roque González had a great devotion.
Building Facade: The building located behind the saint represents the many reductions that were founded by him. These “reduced societies” were founded all over South America (Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia) with the purpose of evangelizing the native indigenous people and protecting them from Spanish and Portuguese slave traders. All of them were laid out in a uniform plan. The buildings were grouped about a central square, the church and store-houses at one end, and the dwellings of the native Indians, in long barracks, forming the other three sides. Each family had its own separate apartment. The priests’ quarters, the commissary, the stables, the armory, the workshop, and the hospital formed an inner square adjoining the church.
Church Bell and Tomahawk: On November 15, 1628, while preparing to oversee the installation of a new bell for the church at the Mission of Todos los Santos de Caaró, González was struck down and killed with a tomahawk.
Heart Pierced by an Arrow: After Roque González was martyred, his body was burnt. The heart was left intact. Legend claims that from his heart the natives heard the voice of the saint. The cacique had his heart pierced with an arrow. Today, his heart and the weapon which killed him are in the Chapel of the Martyrs in his native city of Asunción.