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An enterprising European official sailed to the Central American mainland in 1514. He hoped to settle large numbers of Spaniards there, to find gold, and to convert natives. He and his men adopted a simple approach.

They traveled by night, stopping at midnight outside a chosen village. Before they entered, they declared loudly: “Princes and Indians, there is one God, one pope, and one king of Castile, who is lord of this country. Come at once and render him obedience, or we shall make war on you, kill you, and put you into slavery.”

Of course, Europeans introduced their faith in other ways. Many missionaries lived in poverty among native peoples and presented the Christian message gently.

How did the indigenous peoples respond to these widely varied missionary efforts? What did they think of the Europeans’ faith—and its emissaries?

The accounts below offer firsthand glimpses into three common responses.

Holding to the Ancient Faith

When native Americans were confronted with Christianity, some incorporated elements of Christianity into their own beliefs, creating a new, syncretistic system. Others resisted the faith of their conquerors and held fast to traditional beliefs. Among the Incas of Peru, for example, baptism was considered subjection to the invader; some Incan chiefs killed those who accepted the rite.

Opposition, however, did not always take violent forms. Soon after the fall of his people’s capital (Tenochtitlán), an Aztec priest spoke in response to the evangelistic efforts of Franciscan missionaries:

Our revered lords, sirs, dear ones, take rest from the toil of the road, … Out of the clouds, out of the mist, out of the ocean’s midst you have appeared. The Omneity ...
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