Newsletter of the District
- Dec 2001
Filipino who dared :
St Lorenzo Ruiz, Martyr (+1637)
a note of the true Church, of the Catholic Church. It can flourish
and shine in Asia as well as in other continents. It is the fecundity
of the Cross that gives to the Church its eternal youth, so that
from all races and cultures the seeds of the gospel develops and
blossoms at all times and in all places. The call to sanctity is
a common vocation of all the members of the Church. The first Filipino
saint reminds us that this call, this challenge is still relevant
and that as Catholics we must always be ready to bear witness of
Our Lord Jesus Christ, even unto blood.
Our saint was
born in the outskirts of the walled city of Manila, in a place called
Binondo along the opposite bank of the Pasig River. Born of a Chinese
father and a Filipina mother, he was baptized sometime between 1600
and 1610 and was given the name Lorenzo Ruiz. The exact date of
his birth is unknown since the baptismal records of the church of
Binondo were destroyed. Nevertheless, it was the common practice
here in the country to name the child with the name of the saint
on whose feast-day the child was born. So probably, our saint was
born on the feast of Saint Lawrence, the deacon martyr.
Little is known
of his childhood, except that he worked in the convent of the Dominican
Fathers in Binondo as a houseboy and sacristan. Later he joined
the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary and lived a pious and practical
Christian life as prescribed by the association. He received a good
education from the Dominicans and they hired him as the "escribano",
the secretary and calligrapher of the convent. Thus he earned a
living by rendering documents with his good penmanship. He later
got married and had two sons and one daughter. Such meager biographical
highlights do not give us a full picture of the man, it is true,
but they do help us to figure him as an active parishioner involved
in church services and activities, nourishing his soul by the frequentation
of the sacraments and having a fervent Marian devotion especially
towards the recitation of the Holy Rosary.
Misfortune got hold of him in 1636. He was accused of being involved
in a criminal case of unspecified nature. It was certainly a serious
one, since the civil authorities sought him for questioning and
trial. We do not know - perhaps we will never know - whether
he was innocent or guilty, but Lorenzo, knowing the prejudices of
certain officials, dreaded the trial or mistrial. Thus, he sought
to escape for his life and decided to leave the country. And so,
he embarked with a group of Dominican priests and a Japanese layman
who were leaving Manila, thinking that they were going to Macao.
There, in that Portuguese colony, he hoped to find a living as an
"escribano". But, the missionaries were heading to a land
he would never have imagined to go, to the land of martyrs, to Japan!
Much less did he imagine what lay ahead for him, for instead of
escaping, death seemed to have caught him with its paws.
was proscribed in Japan by an edict of the military dictator Tokugawa
Yeyasu, Shogun of the empire in 1614, expelling all missionaries
and catechists, and forbidding the profession of the Christian faith.
From that year until 1636, the Catholics in Japan were subjected
to one of the most cruel and devastating persecution of the Church.
At this juncture, Lorenzo entered Japan still without the slightest
intention - as he latter confessed to his judges - of
becoming a martyr.
of travelling had already started in Manila. The Spanish authorities
had forbidden the religious to go Japan for they saw it useless
and self-defeating as missionaries who attempted preaching the gospel
would be captured from the moment of their arrival and put to death.
Such however, was not the opinion of the Dominican Fathers. They
would not abandon their persecuted Japanese brethren. They would
not leave the flock without shepherd, without assistance and consolation.
On June 10, 1636, in great secrecy - so that the guards of
Governor Sebastian Hurtado de Cocuera would not notice them - a
band of six men in a small champan left the shores of Manila. They
were four Dominican priests: the Spaniards, Fathers Antonio Gonzalez
(Superior of this mission) and Miguel Aozaraza, the Frenchman Father
Guillelmo Courtet, and the Japanese Father Vicente Shiwosuka de
la Cruz; and two laymen, Lorenzo Ruiz and a Japanese leper Lazaro,
A month latter, they landed on the shore of the Lequios Islands,
renamed today the archipelago of Okinawa. The islands being a time
loosely a part of Japan, they thought they could easily slip unnoticed
into continental Japan. Such however was not case for on July 10,
they were identified as Christians, arrested and put to jail while
the higher authorities were informed. Here they waited one year
for their trial in Nagasaki where the ordinary tribunal of Christians
in Nagasaki with the Dominican Superior Father Antonio Gonzalez
and Lazaro, of Kyoto, on September 21, 1637. Eight days latter the
other Fathers arrived. They were taken to the tribunals of the governors
of Nagasaki, Sakakibara Hida-no-kami and Baba Saburozayemon, jointly
holding the reins of Nagasaki by appointment of the Shogun. They
were questioned and repeatedly tormented by two kinds of torture,
the water torture and the torture of needles. With the water torture,
water was forced through the mouth by a funnel until the belly could
take no more. Then, the executioners would put a long board on the
stomach and step on either end of the board to force the water out
violently through all natural exits. The needle torture consisted
in thrusting long needles between the flesh and the nails of each
finger. Then the executioners would play with the needles as if
playing a guitar. Momentarily one of these priests, Father Shiwozuka
de la Cruz gave in to the excruciating pains and apostatized; but
shortly after, while in prison, he repented and was reconciled with
God, suffering the remaining martyrdom with exemplary fortitude.
Lorenzo and Lazaro were interrogated upon their arrival. After some
questions regarding their beliefs and how they came into Japan,
Father Gonzalez was subjected to the water torture and was asked
to renounce his faith by trampling a image of the Virgin Mary, but
he suffered the torments valiantly rather desecrate Our Lady's image.
Lazaro was terrorized by this, he apostatized at first, but in the
seclusion of the jail and aided by his companions, he acknowledged
his sin and received absolution. After witnessing the torments of
his two companions, Lorenzo was asked if he would apostatized. He
had a moment of doubt and asked for an interpreter to whom he asked
that if his life would be spared should he renounce his faith. But,
strengthened by God's grace, even before receiving the answer of
his judges, he called back the interpreter and told him that he
had just spoken like an ignorant, because (in his own words): "
I am a Christian and this I profess until the hour of my death;
and for God I shall give my life; and although I did not come to
Japan to be a martyrs, but rather because I could not stay in Manila,
however, as a Christian and for God I shall give my life. And so,
do with me as you please." To this, the judges ordered
the ministers to give him the water torture. Even with these repeated
tortures, Lorenzo refused to recant his faith. After these sessions,
they put him back with his companions.
Two days latter,
on September 23, 1637, he stood before the tribunal determined to
stand firm until the end. The judges asked him straight a final
question: "If we grant your life, will you apostatized?"
The response was categorical and immediate: "That I will
never do, because I am a Christian, and I shall die for God, and
for Him I will give many thousand lives if I had them. And so do
with me as you please." The judges then sentenced him to
be executed. It was a clear case of a Christian resolved to die
for his faith, and so the judges sentenced him to be executed. The
first one to die of their group was the Superior, Father Gonzalez
who was devoured by high fever caused by the water torture. He died
in prison on September 24. The Japanese burnt his body and threw
the ashes into the sea.
27, Lorenzo and his companions were withdrawn from their prison
to be executed. They were paraded along the streets of Nagasaki,
on horseback, hands tied and muzzled with the motive of death sentence
announced by placards. In this manner they were taken to Nichizaka
Hill, outside the city, where they had to undergo the final torture
of the "gallows on the pit". From gallows in the shape
of a football goal, each one of them was hanged by the feet with
their body falling into a pit down to the waist. The mouth of the
pit was closed by two boards adjusted to the waist of the body and
pressed down with stones placed on these boards. This torture was
created to last for several days until the victim would either apostatized
or died by bleeding or suffocation. Lorenzo's agony lasted two days.
On September 29, 1637, the judges wishing to go on a hunting trip
ordered their ministers to extract the five victims and have them
beheaded. Lorenzo and Lazaro were already found dead. The three
priest were then beheaded. Their bodies were set on fire and the
ashes carried out of the Nagasaki Bay and thrown into the sea near
the little island of Io-Juma, to prevent their veneration by the
latter, the news of his death arrived in Manila and was received
with extraordinary enthusiasm. Moved by religious fervor, a big
crowd of people assembled in the Church of San Ignacio in commemoration
of the martyrdom of the Jesuit Father Marello Mastrilli, also martyred
in Japan. They then proceed to Santo Domingo, led by the religious
authorities including Archbishop Hernando Guerrero and by the civil
authorities. In both churches a solemn "Te Deum" was sung
in praise of God for the triumph of the Christian faith in Japan.
Lorenzo Ruiz and his companions were beatified by Pope John Paul
II in Manila on February 1981. This was the first beatification
held outside of Rome. They were later canonized by the same Pontiff
in Rome on October 18,1987.
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