Martyrs In Japan


2. Entrance Of The Dominicans Into Japan

FAR from daunting the courage of the missionaries, this outbreak of persecution only seemed to stimulate them to new exertions ; and as in every age and every country God appears to demand the blood of martyrs as the price of the gift of faith, so in Japan we find that multitudes were gathered into the fold of the Church immediately after the sacrifice of the first martyrs. In the year 1599 alone the concealed missionaries of the Society of Jesus baptized more than seventy thousand natives ; so that unless a persecution of almost unparalleled barbarity had arisen, the whole empire would very shortly have been Christian. It had long been felt that the labourers were indeed few to gather in a harvest so abundant, and more than ten years before the Jesuit missionaries had joined with many of the native Christians in an earnest petition to the Friars-Preachers of the Philippine Islands to send assistance to the Japanese mission.

It was not from any lack of zeal in the work that this pressing invitation was not accepted. The Province of the Holy Rosary - established in the Spanish colony of the Philippine Islands - had, from its very foundation, been remarkable for the apostolic labours of its members. Dominic of Salazer, the first Bishop of Manilla, may be considered as its principal founder, for it was at his earnest desire that Father John Chrysostom repaired to Europe from America, to seek for subjects to form a province in the newly-discovered islands. Having obtained letters of authorization from Paul Constable of Ferrara, the Master-General of the Order - v/ho also made him Vicar-General of the Congregation of the Holy Rosary in the Philippine Islands, - Father John Chrysostom found little difficulty in meeting with companions ready to undertake a work so conducive to the salvation of souls ; and having at last made a satisfactory arrangement with the Spanish government he started from Europe with thirty-two friars of the Order. On the voyage, in spite of the hardships they were obliged to endure, these fervent religious observed their rule to the letter. They assembled at regular hours for the Office - which they recited together - and for the common meditations ; they kept the fasts and abstinences prescribed by the rule, without taking any advantage of their privileges as travellers, and they took their meals in silence, listening to a reader, as if they were still in their convent refectory. Often during the voyage they preached to the sailors of the vessel, and had the comfort of leading many of them to a better life. It was the custom to pass through Mexico in order to reach the Philippines, so that there were two long and perilous voyages before arriving at their destination. Some were left in America, others sent to Macao, while three died on the voyage, so that only fifteen reached Manilla, where they were welcomed with the utmost joy by Dominic of Salazer. This was on the eve of S. Mary Magdalen's day, in the year 1587, which may be considered as the date of the foundation of the Province of the Holy Rosary.

No time was lost by these apostolic men after their arrival. They at once began their labours among the natives and also sent missionaries to Formosa and other islands. The reason that obliged them to refuse the request of those who invited them into Japan, was the diflSculty caused by a Bull of Pope Gregory XIII. by which the missions of Japan were given exclusively to the Fathers of the Society of Jesus. The Holy Father thought it wise to insure unity of government and design in these difficult missions, and this would be effected by admitting only one Order into the empire. This decree had been abrogated in favour of the Order of S. Francis by Sixtus V., and therefore, after the persecution had so sadly diminished the number of apostolic labourers, it was decided that the Dominicans also might lawfully enter Japan. The Jesuit Fathers, like S. Peter and S. John, found that they were unable to haul in the full draught of fish that God had given them, and so, like the Apostles, they turned to their brethren for help.

The Dominicans of Manilla rejoiced exceedingly when the difficulties raised by the Pope's Bull were surmounted, and the Bishop of Manilla favoured the project of sending fathers to Japan. But it was some little time before all their hopes were realized. Their desire was increased by the arrival in Manilla of some Japanese vessels, in which many of the sailors were Christians. These men were delighted with the churches of Manilla, which they constantly visited with great devotion, and amongst others that of the Friars-Preachers, which was one of the largest and finest in the citv.

Father Francis de Morales, whom God destined to shed his blood for the faith, was then prior of the convent, and used often to converse with the Japanese about their native country, its government, its people, and the prospects of Christianity. They represented the people, and many even in influential positions, as very favourable to the true faith, and begged the friars to send priests to carry them the light of Christ's Gospel. One of these Japanese, John Sandaya, particularly struck Father Francis de Morales by the fervour of his piety, and this man pleaded most earnestly with the good prior for the salvation of his fellow-countrymen. His ship was from the kingdom of Satsuma, and the captain undertook with the utmost joy to take the missionaries on board. It was considered more prudent, however, to discover what view the King of Satsuma would take of this proceeding, and therefore a letter was sent, in John Sandaya's ship, from the provincial to the King of Satsuma, asking permission to land in his kingdom. The answer was most favourable. The king sent a ship to convey them to Cogiqui, a port of his kingdom, and also a very gracious letter by the hand of Leo Fuisayemon, a native Christian, promising a cordial reception to the Fathers. He asked for twenty, but the resources of the province could not supply so many, and Father Francis de Morales, the Prior of Manilla, was sent with only four companions. All were desirous to be of the number, but those who had the happiness were Fathers Thomas Fernandez, Alphonsus de Mena, Thomas of the Holy Ghost, surnamed Zumarraga, and Brother John of Abadia. This devoted little band, after tenderly embracing their brethren, set sail on the feast of the Holy Trinity, a fitting day for an enterprise so greatly for God's honour. They were in extreme poverty, having nothing but what was given them by a few devout people as alms. During the voyage they were detained some time by calms, but after promising some Masses of thanksgiving, a favourable breeze sprang up, which soon wafted them into the harbour of Cogiqui.

On landing they were lodged in a heathen temple, which was done, says the old Spanish author, by the providence of God, in order that the light of Faith might shine first from that very spot which the devil had especially usurped for his own worship. The priest of the temple, seeing that the sight of the idols troubled the missionaries, took them to a part of the temple that was unoccupied, and here the Fathers erected an altar, having first blessed the place and cleansed it from all heathenish defilement. Over this altar - the first Dominican altar in Japan - they placed an image of our Lord, which had been given them by a Spanish gentleman of Manilla. The people flocked around them in crowds, listening to their words with great attention, and manifesting the utmost respect for their persons, especially for Father Francis de Morales, by whose appearance they were fascinated. Naturally curious, they noticed everything about these new preachers, their persons, speech, habits, actions, and penitential exercises, and especially the modest demeanour they displayed in all their actionSt They admired, also, the harmony and brotherly love in which the friars lived, and the happy mixture of joy and gravity which appeared on their countenances.

Before long the Fathers were visited by a large cavalcade of the nobles of the kingdom, sent by the king to lead the religious with great state into the royal presence. After a great deal of ceremony the Japanese offered the friars horses anid a large retinue, that they might proceed with fitting dignity to the capital city. No argument, however, could prevail upon the fathers to mount on horseback; they declared that it would be contrary to their constitutions and the custom of their province, and that their laws must be observed. They journeyed therefore on foot, and were received with great rejoicing by the king and his court, being lodged in one of the best houses of the city. In return for the royal favours the friars presented some glasses to the king, which he valued highly. At a feast in the royal palace to which the missionaries were invited, some of the courtiers objecting to the austerity of their manner of life, they defended themselves to the king's satisfaction. After this they found it necessary to decline with great civility any further feasting, saying that they had come into Japan to preach the faith to the people.

The success that attended their first entrance into Japan did not continue long unchecked. The bonzes very naturally grew jealous of the high honours paid to these strangers by the king, and of the veneration shown them by the people. They endeavoured therefore to frighten the king, and to prevent him from giving his consent to the erection of a church and priory as the fathers desired. The same argument was used which we hear every day urged against the Church in Europe. Worldly prosperity, said the bonzes, has never yet attended those Japanese who have embraced this new doctrine ; they have become a prey to their enemies, have fallen under the displeasure of the emperor, and have been ruined by following this strange religion. The kingdom of Satsuma, they urged, owes its prosperity and the victories it has gained over its enemies to the powerful protection of Faquimore, the god of war ; and woe betide you, O king, if you desert the god of your fathers !

These representations so frightened the king, who was naturally weak-minded and timorous, that the missionaries were unable to obtain his consent to their building a church and priory, or to preach and baptize openly among the people. For a long time they lived together in one apartment in the house of a heathen, who was firmly rooted in his idolatrous practices and much prejudiced against Christianity. This man closely watched the manner of life followed by the fathers, and was forced to admire the extreme patience, regularity, penance, and love of prayer, which he saw them practising, and, above all, the contempt they manifested for the goods and comforts of the world. The one apartment they inhabited was used for their church, in which the Office and Masses were said, and afterwards for refectory, kitchen and dormitory. Their good example did more than excite mere admiration in the mind of their host, for before long he asked for instruction in the faith, received baptism, and persevered in many good works till death. The greatest treasure which the fathers had in their little oratory was a beautiful image of our Lady of the Holy Rosary, which was much admired by the Japanese, and which the missionaries carried to the court, that they might thus have an opportunity of explaining the chief mysteries of faith. In spite of the admiration which the king could not help feeling for the doctrines and persons of the friars, the fear of the emperor's displeasure at last fairly overcame him, and he consented to the petition of the bonzes that they should be banished to a small island called Quogiqui, which was only thinly inhabited by a few poor fishermen. Here the missionaries suffered very much from cold and hunger, but they rejoiced that thus they were able to follow strictly the example of their holy founder, S. Dominic, in his love and practice of poverty. They depended for the small pittance of rice and fish, which was their food, on the kindness of the heathen fishermen. Sometimes they could obtain nothing, and once when in great distress they were relieved by a poor native who took compassion on them, and for his reward received the gift of faith. During this time of trial, they were animated by a holy spirit of emulation for strict observance, not willing to be outdone by their brethren of the Philippine Islands, and after a time this faithfulness had its reward. The friendship of the king was again won when he saw the patience they displayed in suffering, and their indifference to the things of this world, and in the year 1606 he granted them the long-desired permission to build a church and house in the city of Quiodomari. They dedicated this first church of the Order in Japan in honour of our Lady of the Holy Rosary, whom in all their troubles they had ever found to be a tender and loving Mother. The first Mass was celebrated in this new church on the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin.

From this settlement the friars were able to make apostolic journeys, administering the sacraments to the Christians in their houses, and baptizing the heathens they converted. In the town of Yenquchi particularly, there was a noble Japanese lady, a widow, living with her young son whom she was bringing up a Christian. At her house the friars were constant and welcome visitors, saying Mass for the family, and instructing them fully in the duties of their religion. This good lady falling ill. Father Thomas of the Holy Ghost and Father Alphonsus de Mena were immediately sent for, from whom she received the last sacraments. Afterwards when lying at the point of death, her only anxiety was lest after her departure her youthful son might be perverted from the Christian faith, and she therefore exacted from the guardians of his estate a promise that he should be educated in the faith, and also earnestly exhorted him to remain a steadfast Christian. The young man never forgot this promise made to his dying mother, and afterwards during the persecution he gave up his estate by the advice of the fathers, lest he might be tempted to abandon his religion. This is mentioned as an example of the fervour of these new Christians.

Hitherto the friars had confined their apostolic labours to the single kingdom of Satsuma, but after fully establishing their church and house at Quiodomari, it was considered time to endeavour to form missions in other parts of the empire. Wherever they went. Christians were found who had not been able to receive the holy sacraments for many years, sometimes not. having seen a priest since their baptism. The kingdom of Figen or Fixen, which was the richest and most thickly populated in the empire, particularly attracted the apostolic zeal of the friars, and accordingly Father Francis Morales sent Father Alphonsus de Mena to see if an entrance could be obtained into that province. Father Alphonsus started on this journey like the disciples our Lord sent forth, without provision for the way, fortified only by the blessing of his superior and the prayers of his brethren. God's providence did not forsake him. On his journey he met the captain of a Japanese vessel, whom he discovered to be a fervent Christian, and this good man was of the utmost assistance in obtaining permission from the King of Figen to build churches in his province. The question was referred by the king to a learned bonze, called Gaco, whose wisdom was held in the highest estimation by the emperor and all Japan. Father Alphonsus at first feared that this must settle the matter against him, but God moved this man to advise the king to give the desired permission. Father Alphonsus, therefore, was enabled by the king's favour to build three churches with houses attached ; the principal one being at a place called Famamachi, which was placed under the patronage of our Lady of the Rosary. These churches were, of course, poor in the extreme, and the houses still poorer, but they acted as centres from which missionary journeys could be made, and rendered it possible to celebrate Mass with greater reverence, and to follow the observances of the Order.

The fickle King of Satsuma, who had invited the friars into his province, and, as we have seen, for a time greatly favoured them, terrified lest the emperor might become hostile to him, and excited by the representations of the bonzes, sent them peremptory orders, in 1609, to leave his kingdom entirely. Father Francis Morales found that it was hopeless to endeavour to change the king's purpose, and so, with a heavy heart at the deserted condition of his converts, he departed for other provinces. He sent a Father into the imperial city of Tokyo, where the emperor resided, and, by the blessing of God, a church was built, in which the first Mass was said on the conversion of St. Paul, 1 6 10. Another mission was also established in the city of Osaca. Father Francis Morales himself went to Nagasaki, the capita] of Christianity in Japan, taking with him some lepers, for whom he had founded a hospital, his charity not allowing him to leave these poor sufferers to the mercy of the heathen. Here he shortly afterwards founded a church, under the invocation of our Lady of the Rosary and S, Dominic, which remained until the destruction of the Church in Japan.

Between 1607 and 1612 six more Fathers of the Order arrived from Manilla, accompanied by a lay-brother. Their names were - Fathers John of the Angels, John of S. Thomas, Hyacinth Orphanel, Alphonsus Naverette, Dominic de Valderama, and Balthazar Fort. Their manner of life is described in a letter addressed to Father Diego Advarte, in 1608, by Fathers Alphonsus de Mena and Thomas of the Holy Ghost. It is translated from Father Meynard's work :

"You know the penitential manner of life led by our fathers of the Province of the Holy Rosary as to food and clothing, and also as to the choir offices, preaching, and the constant apostolic journeys they are obliged to make, in order to visit and to encourage the scattered Christians. We follow the same observance, and although there are only two religious in each province of Japan, we rise exactly at midnight, to recite Matins and make our meditation."

At this time, during the short period of comparative tranquillity before the outbreak of the tremendous storm of persecution shortly to follow, the kingdom of Figen was one of the most successful fields of missionary labour. After the entrance of the Dominican fathers described above, the Christians enjoyed perfect peace, and the missionaries were allowed free action in the exercise of their zeal. Father Alphonsus de Mena, with Fathers John of the Angels and Hyacinth Orphanel, were indefatigable in their work of charity; the more so as events that frequently happened warned them that their opportunity would probably be short, and that the time of trial was approaching. Thus the Jesuit missionaries were expelled from the neighbouring kingdom of Bungo, where they had been tolerated on account of the high esteem entertained by the king for one of their number, Father Gregory de Cerpides. His death was the signal for their banishment and the destruction of their churches. In the kingdom of Firando also, in the year 1611, three native Christians, Gasper, his wife and son, were martyred, suffering with great fortitude. Such events clearly proved that a persecution would probably soon commence, though no one could foresee the terrific violence of the tempest about to break over their heads. Nor were supernatural signs wanting to foreshadow the same thing. On cutting down a tree, too old to bear good fruit, some Christians were astonished to find in the centre a wellfashioned cross, with the title over it written in plain letters. This was in the kingdom of Omura, and another cross was afterwards discovered in a tree of the same kind, in the garden belonging to the Church of All Saints in Nagasaki. These mysterious crosses were considered as supernatural warnings that the Church in Japan was about to drink of the chalice of her Crucified Lord.