Martyrs In Japan


5. Capture Of Father Thomas Of The Holy Ghost Heroism Of Native Members Of The Holy Rosary

WITHOUT a direct movement of the Holy Spirit, the bold way in which Father Alphonsus braved the anger of the king and really offered himself for martyrdom, might have been condemned as a rash tempting of God. That the design did proceed from the action of the Holy Ghost, who filled the martyr's soul with the gift of fortitude, is made evident by the heroic courage he displayed at his death, and by the wonderful benefit which his example proved to the persecuted Church. Some of the good effected during the journey to Omura has already been described, but the work of grace did not end there. His death seemed to pour an invigorating spirit of life into the whole Church of Japan. Fervour was everywhere renewed. The fainthearted grew courageous, and the spirit of Christian heroism inspired the faithful with a desire to show that they also could suffer and die for their Lord. A great battle has sometimes been decided by the valour of one man, whose example has re-animated the sinking courage of his fellowsoldiers. The same happened in this Christian warfare.

But, besides this natural effect, an act of self-sacrifice so jsublime, prompted simply by zeal for God's honour, could not fail to draw Sown the richest graces from His Majesty. Nagasaki was the first place to feel the good effects of this martyrdom. Those who had before been afraid to receive the missionaries into their houses, now offered them hospitality. The priests were besieged on all sides by Christians asking for the sacraments with great devotion, and some even went to search for the relics of the martyrs, venerating the place of their sacrifice, and trying to recover the bodies from the deep sea. Amongst these was Andrew Tocuan, son of the Christian governor of Nagasaki, whose glorious death will presently be related. Another good result of Father Alphonsus's example was the heroic way in which many Japanese suffered martyrdom, some of whom had before denied their faith. Thus an apostate, named Dominic Yamaguchi, repented at the news of Father Alphonsus's martyrdom and incurred the special hatred of the persecutors by openly proclaiming his faith and encouraging the other Christians. He was beheaded with his wife and family.

But the most striking effect of all was the vast change which took place in the kingdom of Omura, which, through the evil example of the king and the absence of the missionaries, had become like a dreary desert, but now resembled a delightful garden, bearing the choicest flowers of Christian virtue. Father Francis de Morales, who had succeeded Blessed Alphonsus as vicar provincial, selected Fathers Thomas of the Holy Ghost and John of the Angels to undertake the hazardous task of completing the good work begun in that kingdom. They were accompanied by Father Apolinarius Franco, a Friar Minor, and Brother Mance of S. Thomas, a professed choir religious of the Dominican Order, who, being a Japanese, was well qualified to assist the fathers as catechist. The good resulting from this mission was immense. Apostates were reconciled in large numbers to the Church, the faithful were fortified by the sacraments, and the work begun by Alphonsus Navarette and Peter of the Assumption was finished and confirmed. Many of the poor Christians, deprived for so long of teachers, had fallen, through ignorance and the persuasion of the bonzes, into superstitious and idolatrous customs without intending completely to deny their faith. For more than a month the good work continued without interruption, but on July 7 the Franciscan Father Apolinarius was taken prisoner with several Japanese that were assisting him, and fifteen days later Father Thomas of the Holy Ghost and Brother Mance fell also into the power of the persecutors. Father Thomas had crossed over to an island inhabited by numerous Christians, and so public did his presence become by the crowds desirous to hear Mass and approach the sacraments, that information was sent by the bonzes to the king, who gave immediate orders for his arrest. Paul Nangasci - the native catechist who had so bravely accompanied Alphonsus Navarette and offered himself for martyrdom - obtained the accomplishment of his desires, being apprehended with Father Thomas. They were all confined together in prison at a place called Satsuta, about six miles from the town of Cuxima, in the kingdom of Omura.

It seems marvellous that Father John of the Angels did not also fall into the persecutors' power. He was employed in the same ministry as Father Thomas, and thinking it impossible he could escape and therefore judging disguise to be useless, he openly wore his religious habit. Still it was not God's will he should be taken, and he continued his labour among the people unmolested. In all these things the finger of God's Providence is plainly visible - allowing His servants to be taken by their enemies, or to escape dangers the most imminent, as His glory and the advantage of Holy Church required. This is apparent also as to Caspar Fisogiro, who had accompanied Father Alphonsus Navarette, and begged the soldiers to apprehend him, stating that he had for two years harboured missionaries in his house, thus breaking the royal command. In spite of these bold words the soldiers had refused to arrest him, and his life had been given to him against his will. But now the appointed moment had arrived. Orders were sent by the king for the immediate imprisonment of all who had sheltered missionaries in their houses, and Caspar was seized in company with Andrew Cioscinda, who had lodged Father Ferdinand of S. Joseph.

In prison they gave themselves entirely to exercises of devotion and penance, being sometimes privately visited by Fathers of the Order and thus receiving the holy sacraments. On the last day of September they were again taken to their own homes, and everything was done to shake their constancy, but the valiant confessors despised the threats as well as the promises of the headien.

Seeing that it was impossible to make them abandon their religion, the persecutors carried them to a desert island, called Tacabuco, and then cutting off their heads threw their bodies into the sea. This martyrdom took place just after midnight, so that they obtained their crown on October i, the feast of the Holy Rosary, a circumstance which afforded them great pleasure, as they were both fervent members of the Rosary Confraternity and loving sons of the Queen of Heaven. Gaspar especially was a great benefactor to the Order, having for a considerable time risked his property and life by affording the Fathers of S. Dominic a shelter under his roof. Three friars were actually lodging in his house when the guards came to seize him, but they escaped unperceived. For the reward of his charity he wears the martyr's crown. Andrew had been educated from his childhold in a school conducted by Jesuit fathers, and was an example of Christian virtue. These two martyrs are amongst those beatified by Pius. IX., but many others belonging to the Confraternity suffered in a similar way, though they have not received the honour of being beatified.

Amongst these the story of Linus Xirobioye is remarkable. This man had been converted to Christianity, but when the king of Omura, in whose court he was a distinguished favourite, apostatized, Linus followed his master's example, abjured his faith, and was employed by the king to persecute the Christians. When Father Peter of the Assumption was in prison with Father John Baptist de Tavora, Almighty God by a miracle of His divine compassion touched the apostate's heart with grace, and he was reconciled to the Church before the death of the two fathers. His conversion was not public, and he continued high in the king's favour and holdinj^ an influential position, which enabled him to be of immense assistance to the Christians. Many who had become apostates were converted by his means. After the imprisonment of Father Thomas of the Holy Ghost the king went to consult with the emperor as to the way of treating the martyrs, and during his absence left Linus Xirobioye as governor in his place. This was joyful news for the Christians. By the consent and advice of the governor they flocked in crowds to the prison, and the fathers were constantly employed in hearing their confessions, confirming their faith, and receiving back those who had through fear abandoned their religion. On the king's return the bonzes, who had watched the governor's conduct with a jealous eye, openly accused him of being a Christian. He boldly acknowledged the truth of the accusation, and the enraged king sent him to immediate execution on November 4, 161 7. After this the imprisonment of missionaries became more strict, the guards were doubled, and orders were given that no one should be allowed to hold communication with them. A brave youth named Andrew one day presented himself before the prison and asked permission to speak to the fathers. His request was refused, and he was examined as to his religion. Fortified by the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed himself a Christian, and said that he had journeyed through the different villages of Omura, comforting the Christians and distributing good books among them for their consolation and instruction. The king gave orders that he should be stripped of his clothes and confined in a cage of strong reeds, with nothing to protect him from the cold. It was November, and the cold in Japan during that month is intense. For a whole month the heroic youth bore his torture, the same God, says Father Adverte, who tempered the fiery heat of the furnace into which the three Jewish youths were cast, enabling this Japanese youth to endure the insufferable cold to which he was exposed. The fire of divine love, which burnt in his soul, must have supplied his body with heat, as we read of Blessed Sebastian of Apparizio, the Franciscan lay brother, who was sometimes obliged to tear away his habit and lie in the frost the whole night, in order to cool the unbearable flame of love that tortured his breast. After this wonderful imprisonment Andrew, who protested that never had he enjoyed such happiness as during that month, was liberated, and continued as before - distributing books and consoling his fellow-Christians, telling them that nothing could be more delightful than to suffer for Christ.

During the time of comparative liberty afforded them by the favour of the Christian governor, the fathers had enjoyed the unspeakable consolation of being able to oflfer daily the holy Sacrifice of the Mass - the necessary things being supplied by the faithful, who had free access to the prison. This was reported to the king, and orders were sent that everything used for any sacred rite, as well as every picture and religious emblem, should be taken away from the prisoners, who were in future to be tightly bound in a cruel manner common in Japan, with cords passing round their hands, shoulders, and neck. For a considerable time they were every day expecting the end to come, but it was God's will to prove their constancy by a lingering martyrdom of nearly six years duration. Before closing this chapter some mention must be made of a noble-hearted native Christian named John Nizemon, who was a devout member of the Rosary Confraternity, and thus closely connected with the Order of S. Dominic. He was a subject of the king of Omura, and much given to idolatrous practices, when he was unsettled in his mind by the exhortations of Linus Xirobioye, who was afterwards governor. Going to Nagasaki, Nizemon listened most attentively to the instructions of the missionaries, and getting a Japanese catechism, studied the Christian doctrine with the careful attention a subject so momentous deserved. For some time he was tormented by many doubts and difficulties (a rare thing for a heathen), but being really desirous to discover the true way of salvation, God came to his assistance, and bestowed upon him the gift of Faith. He became a fervent Christian, and often visited the Fathers Thomas and Apolinarius in their prison at Satsuta. The king, discovering this, confined him to his own house as a prison, surrounding it with guards, and on December '23 the sentence of death was announced to him. Joyfully he received the tidings, and promising to be mindful of all his friends when he had obtained the martyr's crown, he kept silence during the time that preceded his death, speaking only to God and forgetting everything on earth. On Christmas day, 161 7, the sentence was carried out by his head being struck off. His relics were secured at great risk by his fellow-members of the Rosary Confraternity. The reader can easily imagine what solid comforts events like these must have afforded to the captive fathers, and that they stood in sore need of spiritual support and consolation the following chapter will clearly manifest.