Martyrs In Japan


10. Martyrdofn Of Brother Lewis Yakiki, - Father Didacus Collado, - Life And Martyrdom Of Blessed Father Peter Vasquez

THE brave and generous young tertiary, Lewis Yakiki, had been in prison since the failure of his plan for the rescue of Father Floras. A crime so great in the eyes of the governor called for no ordinary punishment, and he was determined to shake the faith of this noble Christian, or else to make him a terrible example of the folly of resisting the emperor's commands. Lewis was accordingly thrown into prison, with his wife, his two children, and the four comjpanions of his bold adventure. The horrible barbarity of the torments inflicted upon him made his sufferings more grievous, and his triumph more glorious, than almost any previous martyr in Japan. Christian modesty forbids a full description of the atrocious tortures he endured, but, for his honour, and that of the Order of which he was so distinguished an ornament, they must not be entirely passed over. Before he received his eternal crown at the stake, he was subjected to seventeen different kinds of torture, each more terrible than the preceding. A description of some of these will serve as specimens of what many other martyrs afterwards endured. First he was tortured by the trial of water. This consisted in pouring a very large quantity of water down the sufferer's throat, and then forcing him to disgorge it by means of extreme pressure with a board upon the stomach. During this hideous operation the blood often flowed from the martyr's mouth, ears, and nostrils. His right hand alone was free, in order that he might give the signal of apostasy. Sometimes this torment was inflicted several times in succession. Unable thus to shake Lewis's constancy, the judge ordered his flesh to be torn with redhot pincers and instruments like the claws of birds, and when his whole frame was so dreadfully lacerated that " from the sole of his foot to the top of his head no sound place appeared," his tormentors cut open his shoulders and poured molten lead into the gaping wounds. Their next contrivance was to pierce his legs and thighs, introducing into them long rushes, which they worked backwards and forwards, as though they intended to saw the flesh from the bones. Lastly, they thrust sharp-pointed sticks deep into his body, avoiding any vital organ, and then they roughly snatched out these skewers, causing the martyr inconceivable anguish. During these and many other torments the truly heroic courage of Lewis remained unshaken, and the only cry the persecutors could wrest from him was the Names of " Jesus *' and " Mary." After thus exhausting every invention of the most refined cruelty on his body, the inhuman governor of Omura tried to overcome him by punishing those he loved more than himself. His beloved wife and his two children - Andrew, only eight, and Francis, only four years old - were led to the place of execution, and Lewis had to choose between denying the faith and seeing his family slaughtered. Without a moment's hesitation the saintly martyr seized the tender Francis and presented him to the executioner. He loved his family too well to deprive them of an eternal crown.

Nothing remained but to condemn him to the flames. As his whole body was one ghastly wound, the executioners desired to carry him to the stake in a palanquin, but he refused this indulgence, saying, with noble courage, "Jesus Christ, for whom I have suffered, will give me strength to walk on foot," and, setting forth with a cheerful countenance, he was able, to every one*s astonishment, to walk the whole way, proclaiming with a loud voice the truth of Christianity. The still bleeding heads of his wife and children were placed before the stake, but his martyr's heart rejoiced that his beloved ones were in Paradise. Amidst the flames he refreshed and strengthened himself by invoking aloud the holy Names of Jesus and Mary, while the Christian spectators echoed back these sacred Names, joining their prayers with the dying martyr's. This so enraged the pagan soldiers that they employed heavy blows to enforce silence, and one Christian bystander was struck dead, his head cloven asunder, while the holy Names were on his lips. After suffering for an hour and a half, this true son of S. Dominic went to join his brethren in glory. Those who had been his companions in the attempted rescue of Father Flores were beheaded, but are not among the number of the beatified.

Fierce as the persecution was, it is remarkable that the native Christians were unmolested, unless they entertained missionaries at their houses, concealed them from the authorities, or contrived to introduce them into the empire. These actions were considered in Japan by the emperor, as they were considered in England by Elizabeth, in the light of high treason against the state. In both countries they were punished with the most barbarous severity. In both the object of the penal laws was the same - the extirpation of the Catholic faith. To persecute each individual Christian would have been to decimate the people, to depopulate towns and even districts, so that the emperor determined to destroy the flock by murdering the faithful shepherds. Christians were allowed to pray aloud around the stake at which a martyr was burning, and publicly to ask his blessing, but if a missionary was discovered in their houses, not only they and their family were slaughtered, but often their unconscious neighbours were involved in the same ruin.

With such severity had the laws been enforced that in 1622, after the martyrdom of Father Thomas of the Holy Ghost, only three Dominican priests remained in Japan. Their names were Didacus CoUado, Dominic Castellet, and Peter Vasquez.

Of these. Father Collado alone lacked the martyr's crown, but not through cowardice or want of zeal. Though certain authors have written vehemently against him, charging him with cowardice and envy, it seems beyond all question that he was a good religious and a most zealous missionary. I shall not enter into the controversy concerning him, which would be as little interesting as profitable to the reader, but shall content myself with quoting some passages from Father Meynard's book, in which he describes his character : -

"This year (16 19) one of the most zealous and most illustrious children of St Dominic, the indefatigable Didacus Collado, arrived in Japan. This man of God, powerful in good works, and gifted with wonderful energy of character, came to take part in the conflict at a most critical and solemn moment. The prisons of Omura were crammed with captives; priests, religious, catechists, and the faithful of all classes had been thrown together into chains. The Church stood in sore need of a leading spirit, bold in action" (vol. i. p. 288).

In another place in the same volume Father Meynard adds : " Didacus Collado was, without question, a holy religious and an untiring missionary, in spite of the reproaches which his zeal has sometimes brought upon him. Though frequently condemned to death, and constantly pursued by the Japanese authorities, he persevered in his apostolic work, baptising, hearing confessions, visiting the Christian prisoners, assisting the martyrs, and carrying away their relics. The business of the missions obliged him to go to Rome, where he dwelt for some years, says Father Fontana, who was himself in Rome at the time, with the reputation of being a truly apostolic man, most zealous for the conversion of the heathen. In 1634 he again started from Spain with twenty-three missionaries, and died four days afterwards, a victim of his zeal in hearing confessions on a shipwrecked vessel" (vol. i. p. 321).

Father Collado presided over the missions in the character of vicar provincial after the capture of Father Hyacinth, and continued the history of the missions down to the end of 1622, including the "Great Martyrdom," of which he was an eye-witness.

On S. Mary Magdalen's day, in the year 162 1, Father Peter Vasquez, or, as he is often called, Peter of S. Catherine, arrived in Japan to assist his brethren. He was a Spaniard, born in the town of Berin in Galicia, and in his eighteenth year took S. Dominic's habit at Madrid, studying after his profession at Segovia and Avila. The priory in which he passed his noviciate was dedicated in honour of Mary, and " Father Peter placed himself entirely in her hands, keeping the eyes of his soul ever fixed upon her, as the eyes of a handmaid are directed to her mistress." Even during the period of his studies he devoted much time to prayer, and was considered a model of religious virtue. The modesty of his exterior was the sign of his interior recollection, and the few words he spoke were generally about heavenly things, of which alone he cared to converse. Feeling a desire to spend himself for his neighbour in the missionary life, he implored light from heaven to guide his decision. The result is thus announced by Father Advarte : - "In the year 16 13, when I was, for the second time, going round the priories of Spain in search of subjects, Father Peter offered himself to me in the priory of S. Thomas in Avila, and I gratefully accepted him." During the long and tedious journey he behaved as if in a priory of the strictest observance, travelling on foot from the seaport to Mexico, and then to Acapulco, and after his arrival he laboured among the natives, particularly in the mission of New Segovia, with the utmost devotedness. The intelligence of the martyrdom of Blessed Alphonsus Navarette excited a holy emulation in his heart, and he entreated permission to go and share the glories of the suffering Church in Japan. For two years before starting he earnestly recommended his design to God, redoubling his prayers, disciplines, and fasts to move the Divine Majesty to bring his cherished hopes to a happy issue. In spite of the vigorous measures taken by the authorities to prevent missionaries entering the empire, he was able to land at Nagasaki with Father Dominic Castellet, both disguised in secular costume. This was on July 22, 162 1, (about a year before the martyrdom of Father Flores,) and the very day he arrived six Christians were beheaded, and shortly afterwards the vicar provincial, Father Joseph of S. Hyacinth, was captured. This proved to Father Peter that his own time was short, and urged him to walk while he had the light After staying three months in Nagasaki he settled in a small village in the vicinity to perfect himself in the language, and at Pentecost of the year 1622 he returned to the city. Before August he had heard three thousand confessions. In a letter quoted by Father Advarte he describes how he ventured in disguise into the prisons where the Christians were confined, and gave them the holy sacraments. He passed by eight sentinels without being discovered, in the disguise of a Japanese guard or jailor, with two large swords slung at his side. Interesting details are also given in this letter of his labours, and those of Didacus CoUado and Dominic Castellet, among the Christians whose confessions they managed to hear during the darkness of the night. On the day of the Great Martyrdom he once more penetrated into the prisons and administered the sacraments to those about to suffer. Every effort was made to apprehend him, for two apostates whose confessions he had heard in prison had reported to the governor that a Dominican of the name of " Enchizayemon Peter" had visited the captives in prison. This was the name Father Peter had assumed, the Japanese always placing the family name first In spite of these traitors he escaped detection. Father Dominic Castellet, in a letter to the provincial of the Philippine Islands, speaks in the highest terms of Father Peter, and, amongst the rest, he says : - " Father Peter was sent on an expedition into the kingdom of Arima, where he remained two months, encouraging the Christians and hearing their confessions. This ministry was most successful, for in that short time he heard more than a thousand confessions, and reconciled many apostates. On his return to Nagasaki he renewed his labours with his accustomed generous self-denial. He preferred attending the poor to the rich, saying that the rich could more easily obtain help and advice, whereas the poor were often forsaken. He would never visit any house except to perform some duty of his ministry, saying that, had he desired a pleasant life, he would never have devoted himself to the apostolic work, but, having done so, he cared for nothing else. Lest any might suffer on his account, he changed his lodgings almost every day, and allowed nothing but extreme illness to interrupt his constant labour. Thus, during the seventeen months he was at liberty, he administered the sacrament of penance to above seven thousand persons, spending sleepless nights in the exercise of his ministry." This letter enables us to understand the advice which some of his friends, guided by worldly prudence, gave Father Peter: - "Be moderate," they said; "abate your ardour, and live in seclusion, awaiting more help from Manilla." "No," replied the apostle, "now is the moment to prove ourselves true children of S. Dominic, inheriting his spirit; and to show that, if some shepherds hide themselves through fear of the wolves, the *Dog of S. Dominic' continues to bark and to expose itself without fear." It is wonderful that Father Peter could have remained so long actively engaged in Nagasaki without being apprehended. He seems to have considered this almost miraculous, for he writes : - " I am not yet taken ; but not from lack of danger. I have not been discovered because still unworthy to suffer death for Jesus Christ. I take neither more nor less precaution than formerly, and often pass close by those in search of me." During the Easter season the authorities were more than usually vigilant, knowing that to be a time of special solemnity among the Christians. During Holy Week Father Peter remained in Nagasaki, administering the sacraments undiscovered, but this was the closing scene of his apostolic career.

Father Dominic Castellet had discovered in the mountains near Nagasaki a secret hiding-place, which Father Peter considered a suitable spot to deposit a most precious treasure, hitherto in the keeping of Agnes of Corea, a fervent Christian woman of the city and a great beneliactress of the Order. This treasure was the hallowed remains of the martyr, Blessed Lewis Floras. Before setting out on a second journey into the kingdom of Arima, Father Peter made all the necessary arrangements for the removal of the holy relics. The place was surrounded by rocks covered with brambles, and between them spaces grown over with stout tall rushes. All around was a complete desert The relics were secretly transported to this hiding-place, and the fathers and some native Christians were joyfully venerating them, when a slight rustle among the reeds startled Father Peter. Looking in the direction of the suspicious sound, he saw the satelltes of the governor of Nagasaki watching the little assembly of the faithful. He felt that his hour was come, but without losing his presence of mind he signalled to his companions to fly with the relics, while he also strove to escape. Father Dominic Castellet, being well acquainted with the place, easily ba£9ed his pursuers ; but Father Peter, unable to force his way through the thick reeds, " was captured like a bird in the snare of a fowler." He afterwards wrote the following letter to Father Dominic giving an account of his capture :

" My dear Brother,

" When you made that turn which secured your escape, I tried to follow your steps, but our Lord stopped me, it being His will that I should pay the price of the sins and negligences I have been guilty of while working in His vineyard, and particularly of the bad example my lukewarmness has been to the Japanese Christians. God allowed me to become entangled in a thicket, and two soldiers casting themselves upon me, threw a rope around my neck, and then bound the same rope so tightly round my wrists that the blood burst forth, causing me the utmost pain. Next they secured me to a stake while continuing their search for you, but, not finding you, they at last led me away captive. We travelled by land, the soldiers delighted at their prize, and I still more overjoyed in being judged worthy to suffer for Christ I was much encouraged by noticing that we entered Nagasaki by the street of S. John. I was at once conducted to the governor's tribunal, a large crowd of the faithful following and rending the air with their cries of grief. Their sorrow weighed heavily upon my heart"

At the tribunal he boldly confessed his faith, and was ordered to prison till the appointed time for his execution. The prison was already full. and the result is thus related by Father Peter himself in the letter already quoted : " On my arrival at the prison a great joy awaited me. In order to make room for me, they were obliged to release a robber. I thought of Barabbas." Besides this another point of resemblance to his Divine Master was noticed in Father Peter. He suffered at the age of thirty-three.

In this prison he remained till the feast of Corpus Christi, and was then removed to Omura. On the way the faithful crowded round to ask his blessing, in spite of the rattans of the soldiers, and Dominic Castellet met him in disguise, kissed the martyr's hand, and bathed it with his tears. Father Peter prophesied that assistance would soon be sent him. The lamentations of the people as the ship sailed for Omura were echoed from the hills, <* as if," says John de Rechac, " the very rocks were moved to compassion."

In Omura his imprisonment was terrible. The miserable cage in which he was confined, exposed alike to heat or cold, was between six and seven feet high and the same in width, while its length was only two or three feet more. Within these narrow limits four were confined besides Father Peter, namely. Father Lewis Sotelo, Lewis Lapandra, and Brother Lewis Baba (Franciscans), and Father Michael Carvailho, of the Society of Jesus. These confessors were left to languish in prison for above fourteen months, and considering the size of their cage, it seems miraculous that they survived. ; The only earthly comfort these suffering Christians ' possessed was the service rendered them by a little Japanese girl of seven. She brought them water, writing materials and other things, which she skilfully hid from the guards. Earnest and constant prayer was their stay and support, together y^ith the strong tie of supernatural charity that united them. It is needless to explain that crowded thus together they must have caused many involuntary sufferings to each other, but nothing broke the harmony of their self-denying love. Spaniard, Japanese, and Portuguese, forgetful of national differences, lived like brothers, with one heart and one soul. They proved the divinity of their religion by this heroic charity, according to that test given by our Lord : - " By this shall all men know you are My disciples, that you have love one for another.*'

Worn out with the fatigues of his apostolic labours. Father Peter was twice during the time of his imprisonment at the point of death. The first time his companions asked for some medical aid which was refused, but earnest prayer obtained some renewal of strength for the sufferer. The second time the guards represented that unless sentence were immediately passed Father Peter would die in prison, and Gonrocu, unwilling to suffer his prey to escape, ordered the captives to be burnt alive. Exclamations of joy burst from their lips when they heard this sentence, and the good news so much revived Father Peter, who was in his last agony, that he was able to rise and walk to the place of execution, which was on a plain about three miles from Omura.

Before the fires were kindled, the rope that bound Father Peter became unfastened, and the executioner mounted roughly on his shoulders to secure it, an insult which the holy man endured with unruffled patience, though it caused him much suffering. Brother Lewis Baba, when the fire had consumed the rope that bound him, prostrated himself, half-burnt as he was, before each of the priests to ask their blessing. Three hours after they were all with God. The 25th of August was that year a Sunday and the feast of S. Lewis of France, and by a singular coincidence three out of the five martyrs were named Lewis. All the five were beatified by Pius the Ninth.

The ashes of these martyrs, whose dead bodies were re-burnt, to prevent them being carried away by the Christians, were cast into the sea. Father Dominic Castellet, however, managed to secure a small portion of the relics of Blessed Peter Vasquez.