Catholicism and the Pueblo

One of the motives the Spanish gave for settling in California was to convert the native Pueblo to Catholicism. The religious motive gave Spaniards an excuse to profit from their journey by acquiring gold, spices, and other items. As missionary Father de la Ascension stated, “If the Spaniard does not see any advantage he will not be moved to do good, and these souls [of the Pueblo] will perish without remedy.” Religion was also supposed to motivate the Spanish to treat the natives well.

The Europeans faced some obstacles in getting the Pueblo to convert to their customs. For example, Pueblos had a greater respect for nature while the Europeans believed that the earth and its resources could be used however mankind wanted. The Pueblo religion suggested that gods and the people came from the underworld below the earth. Since gods came from beneath the earth, nature and natural resources were considered sacred. Spaniards and the Pueblo also had different perceptions of community. In Spanish society, individuals were encouraged to distinguish themselves from others. Individuality had no place in Pueblo society, however. Distinction was discouraged in Pueblo society because the community’s prosperity was considered to be more important than individual achievements.

Despite their differences, Pueblo religion and Spanish Catholicism were similar in some ways. Both religions stressed the authority of a higher power. The universe was not controlled by human beings but by a god or gods. The god(s) decided the people’s fate and could send disasters if they were angry at their followers. Also, the reverence which saints received in the Catholic Church was similar to the Pueblo heroes who became revered spirits when they died. Some Pueblo adopted the Catholic faith because they wanted to please the Spaniards and receive gifts from them. Unfortunately, Native Americans did not realize that many of the gifts the Spanish gave them were worthless.   

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