THE MISSIONS OF ASIA
A bimonthly missionary letter to foster prayers
- History of the Asian Missions - Japan Part II
I - The 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki
II - The Great Missionaries
For the Missions of Asia:
One Million Hail Marys Daily
- History of the Asian Missions Japan Part
events in Church history have struck so vividly the imagination
of Christians all over the world as the glorious death of the
Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan in the year 1597; and few places in
the Far East appeal so strongly to the religious feelings of Christians
as the Holy Mountain in Nagasaki where these martyrs sealed in
blood their faith in Jesus Christ by dying on the cross in imitation
of Christ Himself.
them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and
members of the Third Order of St. Francis; there were catechists,
altar boys, doctors, simple artisans and servants: old men and
innocent children; all united in a common unshakable faith and
a burning love for Jesus and His Church. Thanking God for
the grace of martyrdom they departed this earthly life singing
from their crosses the Te Deum, and the children went to heaven
with the words of the psalm on their lips: "Praise the Lord ye
children, praise ye the name of the Lord" (Ps. CXII).
memory of this event was never forgotten even in the darkest hour
of persecution. In secret the Christians came to the Holy
Mountain to implore the martyrs to obtain from God fidelity for
themselves and the conversion of their fellowmen.
two hundred years, 1638-1854, Japan remained closed to all foreign
influence. A few missionaries did try to re-enter but were
rapidly arrested and executed. Finally, when Japan re-opened
its doors for economic reasons in the mid-1850ís missionaries
did not miss the occasion.
A first church was erected in Nagasaki and was blessed on February
19, 1865. Less than a month later, Friday, March 17, Feast
of St. Patrick, after having celebrated Holy Mass, Fr. Petitjean
of the Foreign Missions of Paris, met a group of Japanese women
who timidly asked him three momentous questions: Was he married?
Did he venerate Mary, the Mother of God? Was he subject
to the Pope of Rome? Astonishing questions from total strangers
but still greater was his wonderment when they informed him that
in the neighbourhood of Nagasaki there dwelt 10,000 Christians
who had preserved the faith of their ancestors in absolute secrecy.
the grace of God, the true faith was alive! What an example
for us in this time of shortage of priest! May we too plant
and transmit the Faith in such a way that it still be maintained
8-10 generations later!
I - The 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki
the edict of exile of 1587 of Hideyoshi, the Regent and actual
ruler at that time, the underground missionaries found it difficult
to visit regularly the many thousands of Christians spread over
Kyushu and parts of Honshu. No wonder then that these Christians
on various occasions wrote letters and sent messengers to Manila
begging the Franciscans to come to Japan. Their letters
were addressed in particular to a Franciscan Brother, Gonzalvo
Garcia, who previously had spent eight years among them as a catechist
with the Jesuits before joining the Franciscan Order in Manila
1593, Hideyoshi revised his position and gave missionaries a certain
freedom which lasted four years. In December, 1596,
he believed calumnies told him by some of his governors, concerning
the missionaries and decreed a new extermination of all missionaries
December 30th, Yakuin, a Christian hater, had an audience with
Hideyoshi who then gave strict orders to mutilate the faces of
the Franciscans and their Christians, to carry them around in
the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Sakai, and to bring them to Nagasaki
to be crucified.
journey to Nagasaki
twenty-four names were on the official list condemned to die.
Twenty-six died at Nagasaki. Two were added to the group
on the way to Nagasaki.
800 kilometer journey from Osaka to Nagasaki was made partly by
land and partly by sea in small boats and lasted twenty-six days.
They suffered much from the cold. They traveled by way of
Himeji, Ako, Okayama, Mihara, Shimonoseki, Hakata, Karatsu, Sukasaki
and finally arrived on February 4 at Sonogi, 35 kilometers from
Peter Baptist urged his friars to be true Franciscans. He
was accustomed to say to them: "In Japan we are the first Franciscans
and therefore we must not only portray a true image of St. Francis
but also by our away of living make Jesus Christ and His perfectly
holy life be known. Our faith is based on poverty, humility
and the cross. Hence in propagating the faith the true disciple
of the poor, humble and crucified Christ must use means in accordance
with the crucified God Whom he preaches."
In Japan as in ancient Rome the cross was abhorred because the
worst criminals died upon the cross. More than once people
said: "A religion which adores a crucified man cannot be
good." Father Peter Baptist nevertheless insisted on the
scandal of the cross and had in the previous years most solemnly
celebrated the services of Holy Week and Good Friday in order
to impress upon his Christians the wonderful meaning of the scandal
of the cross.
place of execution of the twenty-six martyrs was a hill now called
Nishizaka facing the city and Nagasaki Bay. It was a place
the way up the hill a nobleman tempted the youngest boy, Ibaragi,
who was only twelve years old to renounce his faith. He
would not yield but eagerly asked: "Where is my cross?"
When they pointed out the smallest one to him he immediately embraced
it and held on to it as a child clings to his toy.
soon as all the twenty-six martyrs reached the top of their Calvary
they knelt down and sang the Canticle of "Blessed be the Lord
God of Israel because he has visited and ransomed his people"
(Lk. 2, 68-79). Then Father Martin of the Ascension delivered
a beautiful discourse on the excellence and inestimable grace
of martyrdom which God has bestowed upon them. All were
soon fastened with cords and iron rings to the crosses and raised
aloft almost simultaneously. Four executioners stood ready
with their spears to pierce their sides. Influential Portuguese
had persuaded Hanzaburo to arrange the crosses in a semicircle
with the Franciscans in the center facing the city. Hanzaburo
placed in the center of this semicircle a sign with the inscription:
"Condemned to death on the cross because they preached the forbidden
on the cross Father Peter Baptist intoned the "Te Deum" in which
they all joined. They prayed together. Brother Paul
Miki seeing the crowds of people began to preach. The general
idea of his sermon was as follows: "The sentence of judgement
says that these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I
did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese.
The only reason for my being killed is that I was teaching the
doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of
Christ. I thank God that it is for this reason that I die.
I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. I know
you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ
to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After
Christís example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate
them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope that my
blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain."
first to shed his blood was Philip of Jesus, a Franciscan cleric
who had arrived on the San Filipe and was arrested in Kyoto.
The iron ring by which his neck had been fastened to the cross
was suffocating him, so he asked that it be adjusted so he might
die consciously. The executioner answered by piercing forthwith
his chest with a spear. The last to arrive he was the first
to die with the name of Jesus and Mary on his lips.
The two boys Anthony and Louis, were placed to the right
of Father Peter Baptist. He had told them to sing from the
cross the psalm "Laudate pueri Dominum." Anthony now asked
him: "Should we start singing." Father Peter Baptist
lost in contemplation with his eyes fixed on heaven, did not hear
him. So the boys began to sing by themselves with a clear
voice: "Praise the Lord ye children, praise ye the name of the
Lord." Scarcely had they finished this beautiful song of
praise when their tender bodies were transfixed with a lance in
each side, whilst their innocent souls ascended to the throne
of God there to play for all eternity with the crowns and psalms
of martyrdom, as the Church so beautifully sings in the
Office of the Holy Innocents: "Sporting with your wreaths and
palms, at the very altar side."
St. Peter Baptist, the leader of this holy band of martyrs, was
reserved till the last. Filled with holy joy and consolation
at seeing all the rest bravely shed their blood, he ceased not
to encourage the assembled Christians to remain steadfast in the
Faith and to exhort the pagans to be converted. Then having
pardoned the executioners he too was pierced with a lance in each
side whilst a smile played on his lips.
Hideyoshi died September 16, 1598 at the age of sixty-three.
A new but short period of prosperity for the missions in Japan
began under his successor, Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate
which was to govern the country until 1867.
the Jesuits and Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians and also
diocesan priests came to Japan. Several hundred thousand
converts were made. Then on January 27, 1614, Ieyasu issued
his edict banishing all missionaries. This persecution continued
with increasing fury during the next twenty years till all outward
sign of the Christian religion had been wiped out. Thousands
of Christians gladly suffered the most cruel torments rather than
deny their faith. Of those who suffered martyrdom between
the years 1616 to 1632 two hundred and five were beatified by
Pope Pius IX in 1867.
church in Japan owes much of its progress to the survival of the
faith amongst the Christians at Nagasaki. This is easily
seen when we consider that among the sixteen ecclesiastical divisions
of Japan one fourth of the Catholics are living in the diocese
of Nagasaki. Surely the blood of the martyrs has not been
shed in vain.
II - The Great Missionaries
St. Gonzalvo was born in India of a Portuguese father and
an Indian mother. He is the first canonized saint born in
India and patron saint of Bombay. At the age of sixteen
he came to Japan and worked eight years with the Jesuit Fathers
as a catechist. Having met a Franciscan brother, John Pobre
Diaz, who happened to visit Japan in 1582 Gonsalvo later went
to Manila where he became a Franciscan Brother in 1587.
Gonsalvo knew Japanese very well hence was selected to accompany
Father Peter Baptist as interpreter in 1593. In Japan he
helped greatly to establish the Franciscan mission. He was
about forty years old when he died at Nagasaki continuously repeating
the holy name of Jesus.
Thomas Kozaki was the son of Michael Kozaki, the bow and arrow
maker. As a boy of eleven he became acquainted with the
friars helping the carpenter build the friary in Kyoto.
He then became a student of the friars. He made good progress
in doctrine and virtue and would certainly have become a good
preacher. Later Thomas was a server boy at mass and helper
in the friary at Osaka. After the arrival of the San Filipe
he accompanied the cleric, Philip of Jesus where he was arrested.
the martyrdom a Portuguese found a letter wet with blood in the
sleeve of his father, Michael, but written by Thomas to his mother.
In it he told his mother not to worry about him and his father
since they were going to heaven together and would wait for her
to come. "Please come early." he wrote. "You
must fear sin very much, since that caused our Lord much suffering.
If you commit a sin, you must confess and ask our Lordís forgiveness.
The pleasures of this world appear like a dream and fade away
to nothing as a dream does. You must not forget everlasting
happiness. If there is anyone who persecutes you, never
hate him. Love him as our Lord did on the cross. Please
take care of my lovely young brother. I am always praying
for you." This letter of fifteen year old Thomas is preserved
in a Spanish translation.