The son of the Duke of Atri, in Italy's Abruzzo region, Rodolfo Acquaviva
(1550-1583) came from an illustrious family related to many of the noble
houses of Italy. His uncle Claudio held the position of papal chamberlain in
the court of Pope Pius V. The duke negotiated for 17-year old Rudolph to take
over that post when the uncle resigned so that he could join the Jesuits.
Instead of joining the papal court, however, Rudolph wanted to join the
Jesuits. He needed several months to gain his father's consent before he could
join the Society of Jesus on April 2, 1568.
After he finished novitiate and his studies in the humanities, philosophy and
theology, Acquaviva was assigned to the missions in India. He left Rome for
Lisbon, Portugal where he was ordained a priest in early 1578. His first
assignment in Goa, India, was teaching philosophy to seminarians at St. Paul's
College. Then he was sent on one of the great adventures of the early Society
of Jesus: to be missionary to the court of Akbar the Great Mogul.
Akbar had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a desire to bring peace and
harmony to his subjects, the Moslems and Hindus whose religious beliefs were
at odds with each other. So he held weekly religious discussions at his court
at Fatephur Sikri, near Agra. When he decided to include Christian theologians
in these discussions, he sent emissaries to the Jesuit college in Goa to come
to his court and instruct him in the Christian faith.
Father Acquaviva and another Jesuit arrived at Akbar's court in 1580, bringing
a seven-volume copy of the Bible and hopes that the conversion of India would
follow if they could convert the grand mogul. Akbar was greatly interested in
Christianity and seemed convinced of its truth, but was not willing to give up
his harem. After three years of effort, Acquaviva decided that Akbar would
never be converted. The disappointed Jesuit returned to Goa.
Acquaviva became superior of the 12 Jesuits of the mission in Salsette, a
peninsula south of Goa. Missionaries had visited there earlier but received a
hostile welcome from the predominantly Hindu population, especially after
punitive expeditions destroyed their shrines and temples. The Jesuits decided
to start a new campaign to promote conversions and to visit all of the
peninsula's 66 villages. They decided to start at the south most village of
Cuncolim, but were stopped by a local leader who said they could not enter the
village because of internal problems. After waiting some hours and hearing
increasingly frightening shouts from the village, the Jesuits decided just to
plant a cross on the site of a future chapel and to leave. The people who had
been secretly watching them summoned hundreds of angry villagers who
surrounded the Jesuits, attacking and killing first Acquaviva and then the
other four Jesuits who accompanied him, Fathers Peter Berno, Alphonsus
Pacheco, Anthony Francis and Brother Francis Aranha.
Originally Collected and edited by: Tom Rochford, SJ