Martyrs In Japan


11. Life And Martyrdom Of Blessed Lewis Betirand - The Fires Of Mount Ungen, - Blessed Father Dominic Casteilet - His Labours And Martyrdom

FATHER PETER'S prophecy to Dominic Casteilet was fulfilled before his martyrdom by the arrival of three Dominican priests. - Fathers Dominic Erquicia, Luke of the Holy Ghost, and Lewis Bertrand.

It was a generous sacrifice on the part of the Fathers of Manilla to part with these men, the flower of their province. Father Dominic was a man of remarkable ability and considered the best preacher in Manilla. Father Luke was professor of philosophy in the convent of S. Thomas in Manilla. The voyage was full of disasters, placing at times the lives of all on board in danger, but the worst misfortune was the loss of one of their companions, Father Didacus Ribera, who sank under the effects of an accidental explosion of a loaded gun which lodged two bullets in his thigh. No surgical aid being at hand, he expired after twenty-four hours of acute suffering, borne, writes Father Dominic, with a patience and submission to the Divine Will which was our only comfort Father Didacus was a man of considerable reputation for learning, and was employed in teaching theology when assigned by his superiors to the Japanese Mission. After a narrow escape from being captured by pirates, the missionaries at last arrived in Nagasaki, where they landed by night in the disguise of native merchants.

The Blessed Father Lewis Bertrand had the distinguished honour of belonging to the family of the illustrious Saint and Apostle of the West Indies, who nearly a century before had displayed, to both the Old and the New World, such a marvellous example of sanctity. What higher praise can be given to Father Lewis than to say diat he was not content to bear the same name, but that he earnestly endeavoured to imitate the religious virtues and apostolic labours of tbe glorious S. Lewis Bertrand ? He was b<mi in the city of Barcelona, and was called Lewis after his illustrious ancestor. The name of his family was Exarch, which shows that he was a kinsman of the Saint on the female side, that being the name of the saint's mother. In him was exemplified that saying of Holy Writ, " Blessed is the man that has borne the yoke from his youth,'' for in imitation of his patron he entered the Order of S. Dominic, in the strict Priory of S. Catherine the Martyr, in his native city, while only fourteen years old, obeying, at this early age, the call of God to forsake the world and his father's house with the simplicity of the young prophet Samuel. Though he had abandoned the dangers of the world while his innocence was still unsullied, he treated himself during his noviciate as the worst of sinners. His master had frequently to restrain the ardent desire the youthful novice showed for every kind of mortification, and to take from him the disciplines and other instruments of penance with which he mortified his tender body. Fasting, watching, and prayer were his delight, and the Fathers of the Priory were astonished at the mature grace and virtue displayed by the young Religious. S. Lewis Bertrand lived again in the person of his kinsman. Aflter his profession the diligence with which he studied in no way distracted his mind from God, for without encroaching on the time devoted to study, he spent all his leisure in earnest prayer, nourishing the flame of love in his heart, together with the light of truth in his intellect

Having thus imitated S. Lewis in his student's life, he felt drawn by the Holy Ghost to follow him also into foreign lands for the benefit of souls, lost in the darkness of heathenism. Hearing of the regular life and apostolic zeal of the religious of the Province of the Holy Rosary, he entreated his superiors to send him there, and, grieved as they were to be deprived of such a model of religious perfection, they recognised the will of God and granted his petition. He arrived at the Priory of Manilla in the year 161 8, and though not yet ordained Priest, he was ordered at once to study the language of the natives, that he might be employed in their instruction. He soon became sufficiently familiar with this language, and also with Chinese, so that after his ordination he laboured with great success among the Indians and Chinese settlers. In 1622 the news of the Great Martyrdom raised a universal desire among the members of the Philippine Province to win a like crown, and to walk in the footsteps of their brethren. All could not be spared, but Lewis Bertrand was one of the happy few selected. He immediately applied himself to the study of the language, and on July 19 in the year following he effected an entrance into Japan. Though the " Benjamin " of the Province, as Father Advarte calls him, he had been chosen on account of his distinguished sanctity and talent. At that time the chief seat of persecution was the city of Nagasaki, owing to the extreme hatred entertained against the Christians by the two under-govemors, one of whom was an apostate. Many of the faithful had taken refuge in other kingdoms. On his arrival, therefore, the Vicar Provincial assigned Omura to Father Lewis as his mission, and owing to the small number of religious he was obliged to depart alone. His apostolate lasted only three years, during which time he wrought wonders, converting the heathen, confirming the faith of the Christians, spending whole nights in hearing confessions, and esteeming every labour easy and every suffering sweet, if there was a hope of leading one soul to Christ

The poor Christians of Omura looked on Father Lewis as an angel sent from heaven for their welfare. Dressed as a Japanese peasant, barefoot, or shod only with sandals, he journeyed through the province, regardless of the cold of winter or the heat of summer, both of which in Japan are extreme. " We rejoice," said one of his companions, " when the weather is bad, for then we are less likely to be watched."

Father Lewis selected the cabin of a poor woman, named Martha, a leper, for his lodging, both because thus he was more hidden, and because she was neglected and despised by the world. Two of those curious crosses occasionally found during the persecution in the heart of a forest-tree were discovered about this time, and one being given to Father Lewis, the other to Father Francis of Mary, a Franciscan, they inspired both these holy men with a fresh hope of martyrdom, which was soon realised. Father Lewis gives an account of his capture in a letter to Father Anthony of the Rosary, the administrator of the diocese of Macao, in which he humbly thanks God for allowing him to suffer for His Name, and makes a solemn offering of his life to his Lord. A traitor discovered the place of his concealment, which was suddenly surrounded by soldiers sent to arrest the servant of God, with his two companions, the one an old man who for a long time had acted as guide to the missionaries, the other a youthful catechist Seeing that his hostess was a helpless old leper, the guards left her unmolested, and it was only at her earnest entreaty that she also was carried to prison. ^'The first night of my captivity," says the martyr, " I was not bound with these chains, which are so sweet to bear, but I was closely bound by the chains of Divine Love"

About a year was spent by these martyrs in prison, during which time the persecution raged in every part, and many received the crown of martyrdom. Shortly before their execution, the two Japanese taken with Father Lewis made their professions as lay-brothers of the Order, one taking the name of Mance of the Cross, to commemorate the finding of the miraculous cross above mentioned, the other, Peter of S. Mary. The old leper, Martha, became a member of the Third Order. Father Lewis was able to offisr the Holy Sacrifice, after which the vows were pronounced with great fervour. On July 26, 1627, they all glorified God in the fiames.

The Christians managed to secure the head of the Blessed Father Lewis Bertrand, and this precious relic was afterwards taken to Spain, where, during the year 1765, God was pleased to honour it with a remarkable miracle. Father Pius Vives was commissioned to carry the relic through Spain, to consign it to the Priory of S. Dominic in Barcelona. Being in weak health, it was dangerous for him to be exposed to bad weather, but he was several times obliged to travel on foot during storms of rain, while passing through Catalonia. After the journey he deposed on oath that during the whole time he was carrying Father Lewis Bertrand's head, he was never touched by a drop of the rain that poured around him. His companion, Father Baptist Salva, testified to the truth of this assertion.

The number of victims put to death about this time by torments of the most hideous description, passes all computation. The names of most of these Christian heroes are unknown to man, though their glory will be revealed at the judgment day. Some grew faint-hearted under the terrible ordeal, and consented to deny their faith, but these renegades were few compared to the immense number of the faithful and valiant soldiers of the Cross. But there was one torture suggested by the diabolical ingenuity of the persecutors which must not be passed over without more particular mention. Whoever has read any account of the Christians in Japan, must have a vision of the fires of Mount Ungen indelibly fixed in his memory. The very sight of that terrible volcano must have made the bravest tremble. Scorched and desolate rise the sides of this mountain towards the craters which form its summit, and which are separated from one another by calcined rocks and crags of fantastic shapes. It seems a spot that has fallen under the special curse of God, and its chief crater, looking like an ebullition from the lake beneath, ''that burneth with brimstone and fire," has received the fitting title of ''the mouth of hell." This chasm is filled with a boiling sulphurous liquid, emitting a suffocating stench, one drop of which, touching the human frame, causes intense suffering. To this scene of woful desolation the poor Christians were dragged, and then, horrible to relate, were slowly dipped into the sulphurous abyss, and drawn up before life was extinct, only to be again lowered into the burning gulf when their strength was partially restored. Others were stretched upon the barren rocks, and drop by drop the liquid fire was poured upon their naked bodies, eating away the flesh and penetrating even to the bones, until the whole became one writhing mass of gangrened flesh. Some martyrs were tortured in this manner for five days in succession, and then abandoned to linger in agony, till released by death. Amongst the multitudes of Christian warriors who thus, and in other ways, gained the crown of martyrdom, many were Rosarians and Tertiaries of S. Dominic, but the details of their triumphs are unknown. The scene of this atrocious barbarity has now assumed a different aspect, and a more humane use. The Japanese have discovered that, properly diluted, this sulphurous liquid possesses considerable medicinal virtue, and accordingly, says a recent missionary, " they have changed the barren region that surrounds those frightful abysses into a place for baths and pleasure-houses."

During these efforts of the demon to destroy the Church in Japan, the zeal and courage of the apostolic missionaries of the dilTerent Orders seemed rather to increase. When the persecution was at its height, Father Dominic Castellet performed wonders of missionary labour, traversing during the space of seven years the provinces of Omura, Arima, Firando, and Nagasaki, everywhere converting the heathen and evangelising the Christians. After the capture of Father Peter, as related in the last chapter, Father Dominic was for some time the only Dominican priest in Nagasaki, Omura, and the adjacent country. He was born in Catalonia in the year 1592, and took the habit of S. Dominic in the Priory of Barcelona in the year 1608, adopting at his profession the name of our holy Father himself. In his noviciate, and more especially after bis. ordination, he proved himself a religious of great virtue, and loved labour for souls as much as ordinary men love repose. In 1613 the illustrious Father Advarte, afterwards Bishop of the Philippine Islands, was travelling in Spain in search of subjects for that distant province, and one of the first to offer himself was Father Dominic Castellet. The prospect of dangers by sea and land and the certainty of a life of hardship and sufTering only increased the ardour of the young priest.

On his way through Mexico he was delayed for the space of two years in the Priory of S. Hyacinth, where he gave constant proof of his charity, humility and love of prayer. Besides the two hours' meditation made in community, he devoted much time to prayer, and his delight was to serve his brethren, sweeping out the cells, making the beds, and helping in the kitchen. In 16 1 5 he arrived in Manilla. For seven years he preached in the Philippine Islands, and at the end of that period had the satisfaction of being sent to Japan. At the time when the search for missionaries was the strictest, he escaped detection for seven years, though constantly employed in active work for souls. We are told that he scarcely ever lay down to repose his weary body. The nights were constantly spent in harassing journeys, barefoot, through snow or over sheets of ice, or along miry and rocky paths. Nor did this satisfy his zeal, for during all these astounding labours he was an exact observer of his austere rule, and kept the fasts and abstinences as strictly as when within his convent walls. This generosity and faithfulness no doubt sustained him in his toil, and obtained grace to enable him to do so much in God's service.

At last the end befitting such a life drew near, and Father Dominic was imprisoned at Nagasaki. Here, to his joy, he found himself among his brethren, for, besides many other Christians, two lay-brothers and about twenty-three professed Tertiaries of the Order welcomed him as their fellow-captive for Christ. The presence of the saintly Dominican was not merely an extreme pleasure to those confessors of the faith, but a solid spiritual blessing. He drew up a rule of life, which all followed. "At midnight,'' says Father Meynard, " the prisoners rose and prayed for an hour. At four o'clock they again rose and made their meditation till six, when Father Dominic offered the holy Sacrifice, and his companions received Communion, the rest of the morning being spent in private devotions. Their scanty allowance of food was given them at mid-day, and at three o'clock they recited Vespers and Complin, with the Litany of our Lady, followed by mental prayer till half-past five. Matins were then recited, the darkness making it impossible to say the office at midnight ; the remaining part of the evening was spent in spiritual conferences, examination of conscience, and singing hymns. Many every day disciplined themselves with great severity." In fervent piety and strict religious observance such as this the days of their captivity passed by, and the joy which filled Father Dominic's heart at last overflowed, and he exclaimed - "Now I am a Christian ! Now, at last, I can glory in being a disciple of Jesus Christ ; for now I begin really to follow my Saviour and my Master. My desires are accomplished. I have nothing now to ask my Lord, save that I may shed my blood for Him.'' It seems wonderful how such a course of life could be maintained amidst the sufferings of a Japanese prison, but the secret is discovered by those words of S. Theresa : " God helps those who, for His sake, undertake great things, and He never fails those who put their trust in Him alone."

The highest aspirations of Father Dominic's soul was fulfilled on September 8, 1628, the feast of the Nativity of Mary. On that day he was burnt alive, with Father Anthony of S Bonaventure, a Franciscan, Brother Thomas and Brother Anthony, professed Dominican lay-brothers, and Brother Dominic, a Franciscan lay-brother. Within the space of a few days his other companions, nearly all Tertiaries of S. Dominic, were either burnt or beheaded.

Whilst being conducted to martyrdom. Father Dominic saw Correia, a Portuguese, an intimate friend of his, gazing at him with tears of sorrow and compassion. " Nay, my friend,'' said the holy Friar, "do not grieve, we are going to heaven, and you must pray for us till the end." He then took a handkerchief, dipped in the blood of a martyr, and placing it reverently on his head, he exclaimed : '^ Behold this is the ladder by which we shall ascend to heaven." These martyrs are among the beatified.