Martyrs In Japan

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4. Life And Martyrdom Of Blessed Father Alphonsus Navarette



WHEN the martyrdom of Peter of the Assumption and John Baptist Tavora took place in Omura, Father Alphonsus Navarette was in Nagasaki, having succeeded Father Balthazar Fort as vicar provincial of the Order in Japan. This father, whose glorious death for Christ is now to be related, was a Spaniard of noble family, born in the city of Valladolid, where he took the habit of our holy Father St Dominic in the Priory of S. Paul. Four years afterwards he was sent to the Province of the Holy Rosary, in the Philippine Islands, where for some years he laboured amongst the natives, and then travelled to Europe to obtain a fresh supply of fathers for that distant mission. On his return he was selected for the Japanese mission, and entered the empire, with one companion, in 1611. He had accompanied Father Hyacinth Orphanel to the city of Miako, the capital city of the whole empire, and therefore the most perilous for a missionary. He was a man of great courage and enterprising spirit, which was directed by the love of God to the benefit of souls. The virtue for which he was chiefly distinguished was extreme tenderhearted charity. This extended even to the inferior animals, to which he was always gentle and kind, remembering that saying of the Holy Ghost, Novit Justus jumentorum suorum animas : viscera autem impiorum ctudelia ; ** The just man regardeth the lives of his beasts : but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." His charity made him a true father to the poor ; he was ever at their service, giving all the alms within his power, and doing everything he could to relieve their temporal distress.

For sinners also he had a tender love, bearing with them, comforting and assisting them by his words and prayers, and thus leading large numbers back to God. He was ready at all hours to hear the confessions of the poor, preferring them to the rich, who, he said, could easily find confessors, and such was his assiduity and zeal that he hardly spared time for necessary sleep and food. The sick also moved his loving heart to deep compassion, and his attention to their spiritual and temporal necessities was unremitting. In Japan the poor, especially those afflicted with disease, were little cared for, and thus Father Alphonsus found ample field for his charity. In conjunction with the fathers of S. Francis and S. Augustine, he founded a confraternity for the benefit of the sick poor. Sometimes the fathers found the aged and sick poor lying deserted on the wayside, and their charity then prompted them to provide necessaries for their bodies and instruction and baptism for their souls. Another work which Father Alphonsus had very closely at heart was the baptism of the numerous foundling children left by their inhuman parents to perish by cold or hunger or to fall a prey to wild beasts. These he used to collect and baptize, and give them to be nursed by charitable Christians. Just before his death he wrote to Paul Garrucho, a Spanish captain, begging him for the love of God to continue his alms for the foundlings. " May Jesus be ever in your soul," he wrote, " and give you eternal life. Do not forget your alms for the little foundlings, for thus you do God a great service. I write this on a desert island, where I await my death."

Another of his works was the erection of the Confraternity of the Holy Name of Jesus in Nagasaki, by which the faith and piety of the Christians was greatly increased. All these ^orks of charity Father Alphonsus united to an intense love of prayer and a strict observance of his rule. When we hear that he effected all these things when his health was weak and frequently caused him much suffering, it is evident that he was a truly mortified and selfdenying religious. This virtuous life was crowned by a martyr's death, and, says Father Diego Advarte, the Priory of S. Paul, which had already given so many learned scholars to the Province of the Holy Rosary, did more than all besides by sending this glorious martyr.

This being Father Alphonsus Navarette's character, it is not surprising that he was deeply moved when he heard of the martyrdom of Peter of the Assumption and John Baptist de Tavora in Omura. He rejoiced indeed at their victory and felt a strong desire to share their happiness, but at the same time he heartily deplored the deserted condition of the Christians of that province, who were now left as sheep without pastors, and some of whom, yielding to cowardice, had imitated their king's example and apostatized, though most remained stedfast in their faith. Father Alphonsus did not content himself with mere sorrow; he considered the time had come for bold action, and under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he determined to go into Omura to succour the poor Christians. On May 24, 161 7, the eve of Corpus Christi, he determined to put this plan into execution. It was equivalent to offering himself for martyrdom, since the governor of Omura had given the strictest orders to his servants to search for missionaries that they might be put to death.

After this decision he asked a native Christian named Paul, who had for a long time acted as his catechist, whether he would dare to accompany him into the kingdom of Omura to rescue the bodies of Father Peter of the Assumption and Father John Baptist de Tavora from the hands of the heathen. " I have determined," said the Father, "to go into Omura and assist the Christians there, while at the same time I shall reproach the king with his base apostasy, reminding him that he has been guilty of an enormous crime, for which he has merited eternal punishment." Paul eagerly begged to accompany him, to share the dangers of his bold design. Caspar Ficogiro also, who had for a long time sheltered Father Alphonsus in his house, entreated to be allowed to join them, and his request was granted. Before setting out on his journey Father Alphonsus wrote the following letter to the friars in Japan :

"Jesus be in your hearts, and give you His Holy Spirit

" You are well aware, Reverend Fathers, to what danger Christianity is now exposed, how it every day loses ground, and how necessary it is to support the Christians by a bold example. Therefore I entreat you by the bowels of the mercy of our good Jesus, to be true children of our holy Father S. Dominic, and to live in great peace and brotherly love with the other religious Orders. I am going to Omura to comfort and strengthen the Christians, whom the blood of two martyrs has disposed to receive much fruit from our ministry. May the Divine Majesty direct my steps to His glory. As I may be cast into prison, I appoint Father Francis de Morales as vicar in my place. If I have the happiness of confessing the faith by martyrdom, you must choose another vicar provincial as our constitutions direct. I beg and implore you to forget the bad example I have given you, whether in office or as a private religious. Remember me in your sacrifices and prayers. Paul desires to sacrifice himself in the service of the Lord, and to accompany me, so that I commit his wife and children to your care. Never forget the work of the foundlings ; may it prosper and be the salvation of all those poor little creatures.

" Brother Alphonsus Navarette.

" May 24, 1617. Feast of the Translation of our Holy Father S. Dominic."

The two who had offered to accompany Father Alphonsus were both laymen, and he reflected that it would be necessary to have a priest to assist him in hearing confessions. He therefore proposed the plan to Father Ferdinand of St. Joseph, the vicar provincial of the Order of S. Augustine in Japan.

He was a religious of great holiness of life, remarkable for humility, zeal, and a tender compassion for the souls in purgatory. He constantly said Mass for them, refusing alms for the Masses, that he might offer them for his favourite intention. Each morning he went to confession before celebrating Mass, and then used to hear Mass, and sometimes two or three in thanksgiving. For three years he had been the only member of his Order in Japan, and during that time he had lived with the Friars Preachers as if he had been a Dominican. Father Alphonsus was his confessor, and he had taken a vow of obedience to him while living thus far from his own superiors. These two religious, though very different in natural character, were very intimate friends, and in Nagasaki lived close together and constantly consulted each other. At first Father Ferdinand's humility shrank from Father Alphonsus's bold design, and he feared that so glorious a work was above his grace. They prayed, therefore, that the Divine Will might be manifested on the subject, and whilst doing so Father Alphonsus was seen lifted up in the air, his face shining with a brilliant light. After this Father Ferdinand put himself into his friend's hands, to be at his disposal, as if he were his own superior. " If I had a superior here,'' said this good religious, " I should throw myself blindly at his feet and obey ; not having one here, I promise the like submission to your commands.'' " In the name of God then, father," was the reply, "come with me to this work."

This was decided on the feast of Corpus Christi, and both the fathers said Mass that morning with unusual devotion, begging the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then Father Ferdinand wrote a letter to the Dominicans of Japan and the Augustinians of Manilla, explaining the circumstances of his resolution, and begging pardon with great humility for not having worn the habit of S. Augustine with becoming holiness, and praying that God would send worthy apostles into Japan. Before starting on their journey the two friends consulted Father Francis de Morales, a religious of the highest learning, prudence and virtue, 'who, after hearing the admirable reasons urged for their project, which he at first judged to be rash, gave at length a favourable answer and his blessing to Father Alphonsus, who had humbly cast himself at his feet. " Perhaps," he said, " you may languish long in prison." "We are ready to suffer for Christ," replied Father Alphonsus, " and to endure a long martyrdom for His sake." Father Francis promised to say twelve Masses if they were taken in Omura, and begged the two apostles to remember him when they entered the presence of God.

They found it impossible to leave Nagasaki secretly during the day, so they waited till night near the resting-place of some martyrs, begging their prayers and assistance. Then they journeyed forth and reached a neighbouring village, where they found many Christians most anxious to receive the holy sacraments. For four days they remained here, working incessantly, hearing confessions, instructing and baptizing the whole day and the greater part of the night. The chief man of this town, bearing an office somewhat equivalent to that of mayor in an English town, was an apostate Christian, and only the week before had captured Father Peter of the Assumption and delivered him into the hands of the king.

This man was astonished at the boldness displayed by the two fathers, and, touched by grace, he fell on his knees and begged to be admitted once more into the Church and to the benefit of the sacraments. This proves that Father Alphonsus was guided by the Holy Ghost, when he said that the time had arrived when a bold example of Christian courage was necessary. Before the arrival of the fathers the Christians of this place had become faint-hearted and almost ready to yield to their persecutors, but encouraged by their example all their fervour returned ; they flocked publicly to confession, and invited the friars into their houses, though well aware that this placed their lives in imminent danger. It very soon became impossible for the fathers to conceal themselves, owing to the vast numbers of the faithful who flocked from all sides, overjoyed to see a priest and earnestly demanding the sacraments. No building could be found spacious enough to hold the crowds desirous of hearing Mass, so that the fathers celebrated under the trees in a field near the village, the holy Sacrifice being followed by a sermon. On leaving the place the Salve Regina and Litanies were sung, and then the missionaries solemnly blessed the kneeling crowd of the faithful, leaving with them for their comfort and instruction the Lives of the Saints and Father Lewis of Granada's Sinner's Guide^ which had been well translated into Japanese. Since, owing to the persecution, no missionaries had been able to enter Omura for a long time, many of the confessions involved considerable difficulties, and many were discovered to have apostatized, so that Father Alphonsus, as superior of the Order, sent word to Father Francis de Morales to choose two fathers to visit these same places in order to finish and confirm the work thus happily begun. For three years the friars had been obliged to disguise themselves as laymen, sometimes as Japanese, sometimes as Spanish merchants, but now they considered that the moment had arrived in which they should assume their religious habits and wear their proper tonsure. The joy with which they made these changes was not greater than that of the poor Christians when they saw once more those beloved habits ; they crowded round, weeping and kissing the scapular with great reverence and devotion. Scenes such as these took place in each village through which the two religious passed.

One morning after Mass a large band of soldiers, many of whom were apostate Christians, arrived with orders from the king of Omura to capture the fathers and bring them at once to the capital city. These officers, though they had not the courage to disobey their master, were most civil to the fathers, begging their pardon humbly for taking them prisoners, but saying that their lives would be forfeited if they refused. The religious answered that for themselves nothing was more desirable, though they grieved for the sin that was thus committed. Father Alphonsus then gave the following letter to one of the officers, charging him strictly to deliver it to the apostate king.

" The superior of the Order of S. Augustine and the superior of the Order of S. Dominic have come to aid the suffering Christians, having heard with great wonder of the martyrdom of certain priests, a crime very great for a heathen to commit, but for one who has been baptized most terribly grievous. Filled with sorrow, therefore, we have come, Sire, to warn you to repent of this crime, to confess it, and to endeavour to make your subjects do the same, as far as they are guilty ; otherwise we warn you that you will be lost in hell for ever, without any hope of release. For this reason we send you this letter."

Then Caspar, the host of Father Alphonsus, stept boldly forward, and reproaching the soldiers for their cowardice, offered himself to accompany the fathers. " Take me also," he cried ; " I have disobeyed the emperor, for three years I have sheltered a priest in my house. Take me also to martyrdom." His time had not yet arrived - later his desire was granted; but now the soldiers would not allow either him or Paul, the faithful catechist, to accompany the religious. Much did the priests desire to tarry till the next day, that they might again celebrate the holy Sacrifice and hear the remaining confessions, but the officers would not consent, and insisted on their immediate embarkation for the city of Omura. No words can describe the scene of enthusiasm among the faithful as the religious were conducted to the boats. They thronged the road, having collected from all parts in great numbers ; they wept and sobbed aloud, asking for a parting benediction from their beloved fathers. In vain did the soldiers endeavour to disperse them by blows with clubs and lances ; they pressed around kissing the martyrs' hands, and cutting off pieces of their scapulars and habits, so that " when they had embarked," says an old writer, " they scarce had habits to cover them."

Many of the faithful followed the fathers in boats, determined to remain near them as long as possible, and perhaps hoping to share their crowns as martyrs. Those left behind stood gazing at the boat that was carrying away to a cruel death those whom they so greatly loved and venerated, and the grief of their hearts breaking out in words, they filled the air with their lamentations. Their distress was the only thing that afflicted the martyrs, who rejoiced exceedingly that they were accounted worthy to suffer for Christ.

The fathers arrived in Omura at midnight, and the king gave immediate orders for their execution. He was greatly afflicted when he saw them, and remorse seems to have troubled his soul ; but he loved the world dearly, and justly feared the displeasure of the emperor if he spared the missionaries. His desire was to conceal the whole affair from the people, and he therefore ordered the execution to take place on a desert island called Ufuxima. The Christians, however, followed, desirous to make their confessions, and amongst them were two relatives of the king - Magdalen and Marina. To Magdalen Father Alphonsus gave a little image of our Lady, which she hung round her neck and promised constantly to wear.

To avoid this concourse of people the soldiers once more embarked with the fathers and sailed to another island called Amegora, where they hoped to be able quietly to despatch their victims according to the king's command. Permission was granted Father Alphonsus to walk over the island before the sentence was executed, his desire being to see if there were any concealed Christians who might thus have an opportunity of approaching the sacraments. Ascending a hill in the centre of the little island, he raised his eyes to heaven, and lifting his cross high in the air sung with a loud voice the praises of the most High God, pouring out his soul in sighs of love and of desire to shed his blood for Christ. On his return he discovered a cavern in the side of the hill, in which a number of Christians were collected. After hearing their confessions he exhorted them to perseverance and left them comforted and strengthened, and then, returning to the soldiers, delivered himself joyfully to their custody.

Finding that the Christians persisted in following them, the soldiers carried the fathers to another island, called Coguchi, and here they found the bodies of the two late martyrs, Peter of the Assumption and John Baptist of Tavora, which the king had ordered to be transported to this distant island, owing to the veneration paid by the Christians to their relics. The soldiers in charge of the sacred remains of these martyrs had orders to execute a youthful Japanese, named Leo, who had constantly served Mass for Father John Baptist To escape the determined vigilance of the Christians the soldiers again sailed with their captives at midnight for a still more distant island, and thinking that now at last they must be alone they commanded the fathers to prepare for immediate death. But neither was this the place chosen by God for the sacrifice. Father Alphonsus recognised some Christians disguised as sailors, and asked them to fashion for him a rude cross with two pieces of wood, that he might die with the sacred symbol before his eyes. Seeing this, the soldiers once more delayed their martyrdom, and sought a yet more remote spot, called the island of Tocaxima. Here they ordered the holy men to kneel down, a command they obeyed with the utmost joy, seeing that the long-desired moment had arrived. Alphonsus was in the centre, on his right hand knelt Father Ferdinand, on his left the youthful Leo. Father Ferdinand was the first martyr. Kneeling for a time in prayer, he kissed the sword which was to send his soul to eternal rest, and then, taking his rosary in one hand and a blessed candle in the other, he bowed his head to the blow. The stroke descended, and the martyr was with God.

Father Alphonsus was the next victim. Clothed in the white habit of our Lady, this true son of S. Dominic knelt in joyful expectation of the moment in which he could complete his sacrifice by giving his life for Christ His countenance shone with a joy that was the reflection of his soul, as if a ray from the heaven to which he was speeding had fallen upon him before the time ; his right hand grasped the cross, and in his left were his beads and the blessed taper of the Rosary Confraternity. The last words he uttered were those he had so often chanted in his convent choir during the weekly office of the departed, " I will please the Lord in the land of the living," Perhaps the heavenly beauty of the figure before them unnerved the executioner, for the first stroke only mutilated without killing the sufferer. He fell backwards on the ground, his eyes looking up to heaven, where his heart had already taken refuge. The third stroke finished the work, and S. Dominic numbered another martyr among his children. Leo, the youthful native, received the palm of victory after a single blow.

Thus were representatives of the four religious orders which had sent missionaries to Japan martyred almost together. But God, who has raised them all to glory, was pleased to unite them still more closely upon earth. The heathen, as was mentioned above, had carried away the relics of Father Peter of the Assumption and Father John Baptist, to prevent the concourse of the faithful at their tomb. They now opened the coffins containing the remains of these two martyrs, and with them they enclosed the bodies of Father Alphonsus and Father Ferdinand. Then they tied heavy weights to each, and cast them into the deep waters of the sea. In one coffin sank the relics of the Jesuit, John Baptist de Tavora, and the Friar Preacher, Alphonsus Navarette ; in the other, those of the Augustinian, Ferdinand of S. Joseph, and the Friar Minor, Peter of the Assumption. Thus did God show how much He is pleased with peace, harmony, mutual support, and brotherly love between those who, though under different rules and forming different divisions of one apostolic army, are still united in one faith, one work, and in the love that makes them yearn to shed their blood for one and the same Lord. The executioners to whom the duty of despatching the martyrs had been committed, were for the most part apostate Christians, who greatly disliked their task but were afraid to disobey the king. So much reverence did they entertain for the martyrs, that when their hated duty had been performed, they dipped cloths in the blood and preserved them, with the habits, as precious relics, saying that they trusted God would give them one day the grace of conversion through the prayers of His servants. The sword used at the execution was afterwards sold to the Christians for 150 crowns, and sent to the Dominicans of Manilla.

This glorious martyrdom took place on the octave day of Corpus Christi, June i, 161 7, and five years later, by command of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the Archbishop of Manilla made the enquiries necessary to enable the Holy See to proceed to the beatification of the martyrs. In 1668 the same Sacred Congregation declared that the process was valid, and that death had been inflicted out of hatred to religion. In 1863 Pius IX. authorized new investigations to decide whether death had been accepted by the martyrs for the love of Jesus Christ and to bear witness to the truth. The answer being favourable, the four martyrs were solemnly beatified on July 7, 1867.