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In 16th-century New Spain (Mexico), missions were the principal part of the Spanish crown’s program to convert Native Americans to Catholicism and transform them into loyal subjects in “New World” Spanish society.

With the Pope’s support, the Spanish Crown viewed conversion of the Native Americans as sufficient reason for their conquest and subjugation, financed and directed by the King. The Spanish explorer/conquistador Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) and a small group of armed men landed on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in 1519 to investigate stories they had heard about large cities on the mainland. After two years of fighting the Mexica, more widely known as Aztecs, and making alliances with other native city-states opposed to them, Cortés succeeded in conquering the Aztecs in Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) in 1521. This led to an unprecedented missionizing effort to convert the native population of what is today central Mexico to Catholicism....