At Mass this morning at Martyrs’ Shrine (yes, I did go on the pilgrimage I mentioned) the priest reminded us that today is the anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Antoine Daniel, one of the five Jesuits put to death for the faith around the Midland area in the 1640’s.
Nothing remains of the priest’s body. He had just finished saying Mass at the mission of Saint Joseph, a small outpost a few miles south of the shores of Georgian Bay, when the Iroquois attacked, hacking their way through the palisades, and setting fire to the cabins. Father Antoine was urged to run and save himself, but he refused, staying with his flock, the old, the infirm, the injured, baptizing, anointing, before walking out and confronting the Iroquois in his cassock, surplice and stole, allowing many others to escape into the woods. The Iroquois, unused to this white man dressed so strangely, holding a cross, apparently unafraid, stopped in their tracks, puzzled and themselves fearful.
The moment passed, and Antoine’s body was riddled with arrows, shot, then thrown into his burning church, a holocaust to God.
Years ago, a priest friend and I visited the site of his martyrdom, now unknown to most, in the back end of a field filled with cows. I recall that the old farmer mentioned that crowds used to come and visit the site, buses filled with schoolchildren, but no more.
The sacrifice of Saint Antoine Daniel, however, remains in the mind of God, and in the hearts of countless pilgrims who visit the shrine, recalling the sacrifice of the martyrs, and so many others.