Martyrs In Japan

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6. The Prisons Of Satsuta, Father John Of S Dominic His Death Imprisonment Of Father Francis De Morales And Father Alphonsus De Mena



WHEN we hear of the heroic confessors of the faith in Japan being confined, many of them for long periods of time, in prison, awaiting their final triumph, we must not imagine them living in a commodious building like a modern jail. The prisons of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were places of terrible suffering even in Europe. In our own time a criminal, however abominable his crime, is treated with the utmost humanity, and though suffering loss of liberty, is confined in a well ventilated cell, scrupulously clean and well v/armed, and furnished with every necessary for the health of the inmates.

But the " prisons " of Satsuta were by no means of this type.' In Japan permanent buildings for confining malefactors were, two hundred years ago, unknown. Places were constructed as necessity required, and for the Christian prisoners part of an open field had been enclosed with thick stakes, forming a kind palisade with no roof, and nothing to protect the sufferers from the cutting blasts and biting frosts of the Japanese winter. With scarcely sufficient clothes to cover them, they were obliged to seek what repose they could upon the bare ground. To all this was added the torment of hunger - their food, scanty in allowance, consisting of rice boiled in water, without anything more solid to support them. Often they were tightly bound with cords in a way that caused intense and constant suffering. These cords, sometimes small and cutting, were bound round the neck, breast and arms ; and the hands tied together brought the elbows almost into contact, and in this way were they led from place to place, and to the stake or the block on the day of execution.

It was almost miraculous that they survived these intense sufferings, for this was only their first winter, and five years had to pass before the hour of release. On their first Christmas day in confinement, in 1617, they were able to say Mass, which they did to their unspeakable comfort, and in the most secret possible manner. Christians from without had supplied them with requisites at their own imminent risk.

After this it is not wonderful that one priest died in this prison. Father John of S. Dominic had not been very long in the empire before his imprisonment He was a Spaniard by birth, and took the habit of our holy Father S. Dominic in the renowned convent of S. Stephen in Salamanca, and after making considerable progress in piety and learning, he was urged by apostolic zeal to go to the province of the Philippines. With his companions he journeyed from Salamanca to Seville on foot, depending on the alms of the faithful, and in the same way he afterwards travelled on foot from Mexico to the port of Acapulco, this being then the common route to the Philippines. In these long and fatiguing journeys he displayed the patience, love of suffering, and genuine spirit of poverty which must characterize a missionary. On his arrival in Manilla his first care was to study the language of the Indian natives, among whom he laboured for some years with great energy and success. His superiors afterwards selected him to form one of a company sent to found a missionary province in Corea, from whence at the instigation of Father Francis de Morales he obtained leave to pass with Father Angelo Ferrer into Japan. They were learning the language at Nagasaki, when they were discovered, and conducted, together with two lay brothers, Thomas of the Rosary and John Nangoriki, to the prison of Satsuta. Their arrival was a great joy to Father Thomas of the Holy Ghost. Laudate Dominum omnes genUs^ sang the new captives as they entered their prison, and with cheerful voice, in spite of his six months suffering, Father Thomas replied, Quoniatn confirmata est super nos misericordla ejus.

God deals differently with His servants. It was His divine will to purify Father John of S, Dominic by spiritual sufferings, and then to call him to rest from the prison, while He reserved his companions for a more public confession. All his companions in the midst of their sufferings were supported by Divine consolations, but Father John endured an inward crucifixion. His humility made him tremble. He could not be convinced that one so unworthy would have the grace to die a martyr. Naturally of a timorous nature, he feared his sins might render him unfit for so glorious a triumph. His companions tried their utmost to console him, reminding him with what fortitude the Holy Ghost had filled him when standing before the governor of Nagasaki after his capture, and how then, when asked who he was, he had< answered boldly, " A religious and a son of S. Dominic." They exhorted him to trust in God without fear, since He ever helps those who mistrust themselves. These comforting words could not altogether reassure the humble religious, who was being purified by the withdrawal of spiritual consolations. A letter he wrote to the prior of the convent at Manilla breathes the same spirit His bodily strength could not withstand this combined suffering of soul and body, and he fell dangerously ill. No relief was allowed him in his sickness. Stretched on the ground, his food was still only rice, and medicine was forbidden. His only consolation was the tender compassion of his brethren, who watched over him with the utmost love, doing for his soul what they were unable to do for his bodily relief. In their arms he expired, in most holy dispositions, on March 19, 16 19, the feast of S. Joseph, just three months after his entry into prison.

As he died from the sufferings endured in prison for the faith, he was as truly a martyr as if he had laid his head upon the block or given his body to be burnt, and he was beatified with Alphonsus Navarette by Pius IX. After his death the companions of his prison cut off a finger and a foot, which they preserved as most precious relics, his body being carried off by the infidels, to prevent the faithful paying it veneration. They tried to bum it, but in vain did they heap pile after pile of wood round the sacred remains; the fire respected its Maker's servant, and the body remained unconsumed. The heathens, fiercer than the flames, chopped it into pieces, which they threw into the sea.

While these events were happening in the prison of Satsuta, the enemies of the faith were not idle. The chief governor of Nagasaki, which is a town under the direct jurisdiction of the emperor, died about this time, and a man named Gonrocu, a bitter enemy of the Christian religion, was appointed in his place. Under the chief governor there were two officials of high authority acting as vice-governors, and one of these was a Christian named Anthony Toan, while his colleague was an apostate of the name of Feyzo. Anthony had a married son, named Andrew Tocuan, and in his house Father Francis Morales was concealed. Shortly after the appointment of the new governor, Feyzo was careful to lodge an information with him, that resulted in the capture of the missionary and the imprisonment of Anthony and Andrew, together with several other Christians. The officers entered the house while Father Francis was at dinner, and on account of the high esteem in which he was held in the city, they apologized for being obliged to apprehend him, to which he replied joyfully that it was the most glorious day of his life, and the one he had longed for ever since his first arrival in Japan. Before departing he once more clothed himself in his religious habit, which he had been obliged to lay aside for the last five years. The guards conducted him to the same prison into which Father Alphonsus de Mena with his host, John Xoan, and several other native Christians had been thrown only the day before. Both these fathers were among the the first Dominicans that nearly twenty years before had landed in the empire of Japan, and ever since that time had incessantly laboured for the salvation of souls amid many privations and sufferings. Both were Spaniards. Father Francis was a native of Madrid and a son of the Priory of S. Paul in the city of Valladolid. After teaching philosophy for some time in the Priory of S. Gregory at Valladolid, he went to the Philippines, and when the first missionaries were sent to Japan he was fulfilling the office of Prior in the Convent of Manilla. His common exclamation to his brethren was : " Oh ! my brothers, how beautiful is the land of Japan." His labours in the empire have already been mentioned, especially when driven from the kingdom of Satsuma. Father Alphonsus de Mena was a cousin of Alphonsus Navarette, and was professed in the Priory of S. Stephen in Salamanca. He also had done good service among the infidel natives of the Philippine Islands, and since entering Japan, as described elsewhere, had laboured in many provinces of the empire with indefatigable energy, till forced by the violence of the persecution to take shelter in Nagasaki. For some time he lived in Anthony Toan*s house, visiting the Christians during the night, and returning before the light to his hiding-place ; and afterwards he had wandered from one place of concealment to another, in continual danger and suffering, which at last ended in his imprisonment.

For eight days the native Christians were consoled amidst the sufferings of the prison by the company of these two missionaries. Then they had to endure the sorrows of a separation, the two priests being conveyed, on Palm Sunday, to another prison, situated in an island belonging to the kingdom of Firando, about thirty leagues distance from Nagasaki. Although every precaution was employed to prevent the Christians from discovering the Fathers on their journey, the news of their departure got abroad, and the faithful crowded round the landing-place, begging with tears for the privilege of a parting blessing, and as the ship sailed they filled the air with their cries and lamentations.

The cruelties inflicted upon the two Fathers in their new prison was barbarous in the extreme. A public proclamation forbade any one, under pain of death, to supply them with water, food, clothes, or any other necessary of life. Their prison was very narrow and incommodious, with one small window, through which the sky alone was visible, and this miserable chamber was pervaded by a poisonous stench. The food supplied to the prisoners was barely sufficient to sustain life, consisting only of a little rice, or a soup of radish leaves, and sometimes, by way of luxury, a dried herring. To add to all these hardships. Father Alphonsus fell dangerously ill, and was at the same time overcome by a profound melancholy, which often assailed him when not actively engaged in the duties of the apostolate. God, however, did not desert His servant, whom He intended for a glorious triumph. The comfort derived from the presence and conversation of Father Francis Morales, the consolation they both enjoyed in being able to offer the Holy Sacrifice, and the earnest desire he felt to suffer a martyr's death, all combined to restore him to health. After enduring this martyrdom for five months, the two Fathers were confined in the still worse prison of Satsuta, where for three years more they lingered in patient suffering.