Martyrs In Japan


3. Outbreak Of The Persecution, Martyrdom Of Father Peter Of The Assumption, OSP, And Father Baptist Tavora, SJ

TAIKO-SAMA, who had crucified the protomartyrs of Japan, died in 1598, and his death was followed by some years of civil war. " Power then passed into the hands of a man scarcely less able than himself, leyasu, in whom the office of Shogun (in abeyance since 1573) was restored, and who founded the Tokugawa dynasty or Shogunate. A period of comparative peace and prosperity" (as described in the last chapter) " now ensued. . . . But the peace was of short duration ; it was only the prelude to one of the most awful persecutions ever recorded in the history of the Church."

At first the Shogun was not actively hostile to Christianity and favoured the Jesuit bishop, Luiz Serqueyra, even receiving him in the city of Kyoto. A native Christian named Paul was one of his favourites and advisers, but falling under his displeasure became the occasion of anger against the Christians in general.

But this was not the principal reason of the persecution. About this time an event most fatal to Christianity happened in the arrival of Dutch and English Protestants. These men, who hated the Catholic Church more bitterly than the heathen emperor himself, stirred up the persecution, during which they constantly assisted the enemies of the Faith. A Dutch vessel, commanded by an Englishman of the name of William Adams, was wrecked on the Japanese coast. Leave was granted to the crew to build another ship, but, in the meantime, the Spanish pilot was imprudently taking a survey of the coast, in order to construct charts. The Shogan, hearing this, asked Adams whether it was customary in Europe to allow foreigners to survey a country without leave of the government Adams replied that such a proceeding would not be tolerated in Europe, and that the truth was, that the Spaniards wanted accurate charts of the Japanese coast in order to be able to subdue the whole country and take possession of it for the Spanish crown, as they had already done in the Philippine Islands. It is well known, also, added this English Protestant, that the religious who have come into Japan under pretence of preaching the gospel, are merely spies of their government, sent to incite the people against their rulers. For this reason the Princes of Germany, the Kings of England, Denmark, Sweden, and the Republic of Holland, have expelled the religious from their dominions as the only means of preserving the public peace. These representations - prompted partly by commercial jealousy, partly by hatred of the Catholic faith - violently inflamed the anger of the Shogan against Christianity. The result was an edict commanding all missionaries to quit the empire, forbidding any Japanese to profess Christianity under pain of death, and ordering all the churches to be destroyed. This edict was carried out with greater rigour in some provinces than in others, according to the dispositions of the kings and governors, but everywhere its effects were very soon felt. The King of Figen - who had for several years highly favoured the Friars-Preachers, and still entertained the utmost respect for their disinterested charity - dared not brave the anger of the Shogan, and so ordered them to quit his dominions. They collected their beloved Christians in the church at Famamachi, and gave them the holy sacraments, exhorting them earnestly to remember the promises of fidelity they had made to God. Frequently their words were interrupted by the sobs of their children and their own tears. It was a sorrowful parting, but necessary in order that they might still be able to help the Church, and they promised to return in disguise to visit and encourage their flock. They then departed with heavy hearts, though full of confidence in God^s protection and the prayers of His Holy Mother. Father John of the Angels disguised himself as a Japanese and went into the kingdom of Omura, to assist the deserted Christians there ; while Fathers Alphonsus de Mena and Hyacinth Orphanel, still in their habits, journeyed together to Nagasaki. Shortly after their arrival several native Christians - members of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary - were martyred by order of the governor, and though some of them were only children of tender age, they all bravely endured till the end. Many other members of the Confraternity accompanied them to the place of execution with lighted candles and rosaries in their hands, praying for the grace of perseverance. The religious of the different Orders had been driven out of all the provinces, as the Dominicans had been from Satsuma, Figen and others, and most of them had collected secretly in Nagasaki, though many had been sent to Macao and Manilla. Father Balthazar Fort, therefore, compassionating the deserted condition of the poor Christians, sent the friars, concealed as Japanese, into the various kingdoms of the empire, to confirm the faith of the converts, to console them, and to give them the holy sacraments. He himself went into Arima and Macusa, and other parts, assisting the Christians, who were very numerous, and afterwards, going by night to Famamachi, in the kingdom of Figen, he found the Dominican church not destroyed, and said Mass there, to the extreme joy of the Christians. In passing through the kingdom of Bungo he was in a district where there was no Christian house, but was informed that at some little distance he would find a Christian lady whose husband was a heathen. The lady of the house was absent on his arrival, but the infidel husband not only received him with civility but went in search of his wife, at the same time begging the Father to remain seated near the fire, as the cold was intense. Whilst awaiting his return the daughter .approached with an infant son, and told him secretly that she was a Christian and desired to confess, and to have the child baptized. Her religion was a secret carefully hidden from her heathen parent, so Father Balthazar heard her confession and baptized the child, still standing at the fire. Passing by the same place a year after, he found that the little child had died, and its salvation through baptism gave him great joy and consolation.

Before the emperor's decree for the destruction of the Christian churches was carried out in Nagasaki, public prayers were offered up to obtain grace to sustain the sufferings which were about to fall upon the faithful. Penitential processions were formed, the first one starting from the Dominican church. It was attended by an immense number of Christians of all classes, wearing white tunics and bearing lighted candles in their hands, many with crowns of thorns on their heads, and disciplining themselves to blood. After a fervent sermon from Father Thomas of the Holy Ghost, the procession issued from the church, the Litanies being sung with great devotion. Similar processions were afterwards formed in the churches of the Augustinian, the Jesuit, and the Franciscan fathers. The Forty Hours Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament also took place in the Dominican and Jesuit churches, together with the administration of the holy sacraments. Thus did the Church prepare for the contest. Afterwards the governor of Nagasaki commanded the religious to depart from the empire, but instead they disguised themselves and separated into the different provinces to aid the Christians in secret. For nearly three years after the publication of the edict against the Church, it was nowhere enforced to the letter - especially when the emperor's attention was engrossed by a war in which he became involved. During this war the religious in Nagasaki began to show themselves again without fear, and to say Mass in the Christian houses almost as publicly as when they possessed churches. At this time also the Dominican Fathers were more zealous than ever in spreading the devotion of the Holy Rosary and enrolling thousands of the native Christians in the Confraternity. In some places all the Christians became members, as in a town called Myne in the kingdom of Arima.

The Shogan who had begun the persecution was succeeded by a man who hated Christianity with still greater bitterness, and was determined that the decrees against it should be enforced. Many native Christians had been already put to death in different places, but the religious had only been ordered to leave the country - a command they had disobeyed. In the year 1617, therefore, the apostate King of Omura apprehended two priests in his province who were labouring secretly among the Christians, and cast them into prison. They were Father Peter of the Assumption, a Franciscan, and Father John Baptist Tavora, of the Society of Jesus. Shortly after, both these religious glorified God by a martyr's death, being' beheaded on the 2nd of May, 16 17, and their names head the list of those two hundred and five beatified in July, 1867, by Pius IX. This brings us to the history of the Dominican protomartyr in Japan, Blessed Alphonsus Naverette.