Martyrs In Japan

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8. Father Lewis Flores



DIFFICULT and dangerous as it was to enter Japan, the members of the different religious orders suffered no opportunity to escape without making the attempt to succour the persecuted Christians. In the year 1620 the Dominicans of Manilla were informed that a Japanese Christian named Joachim Firaiama intended to return to his native country, and some other Japanese Christians were anxious to accompany him. Being a devout man, Joachim was willing to be the means of carrying missionaries to his poor countrymen, though well aware of the imminent risk thus incurred of suffering a cruel death. Accordingly on the day appointed for departure two men came on board in the dress of merchants. To the eye of a stranger there was something remarkable about these two passengers - a calm gravity of deportment and often a look of abstraction that hardly suited their character of merchants, and though dressed with great simplicity and carrying little merchandise, the captain received them with every mark of respect. R*equently they conversed together in a subdued tone, and the sailors sometimes surprised them kneeling in a retired comer of the vessel. Joachim knew these two merchants to be sailing in quest of a pearl of great price - not, indeed, the common red pearls peculiar to Japan, but the souls of its inhabitants, and, if God so willed, the blood-red pearl of martyrdom. Their true names were Father Lewis Floras, of the Order of Friars Preachers, and Father Peter de Zugnica, of the Order of St. Augustine. Father Flores was a Belgian, a native of Antwerp, or, according to another account, of Ghent, where he was brought up, and where his family still remains. He travelled as a merchant into Spain, and afterwards to the West Indies, and feeling a divine call to renounce the world, he became a friar in the Dominican priory of the city of Mexico. There he remained until his sixtieth year, filling the important office of novice-master. Feeling an ever-increasing desire to devote himself to an apostolic life among the infidels, he obtained permission in spite of his advanced years to repair to the Philippines, where for some time he was appointed novice master in the Priory of Manilla. Hearing of the opportunity of reaching Japan by the sailing of Joachim's ship, he obtained the desired leave to sacrifice himself for the Christians of that aflSicted mission. Ever since his entry into the Order Father Flores had been a model of every religious virtue to his brethren, and his life in the Priory of Manilla seems to reproduce the lives of the Fathers of the Desert He was a man much given to prayer and mortification, and devoured with zeal for souls and the strictest observation of his rule. His companion, Peter de Zugnica, was a Spaniard, son of a viceroy of Mexico, and at an early age had entered the Order of the Hermits of S. .Augustine, in which he was celebrated for holiness of life and skill in preaching. This was his second voyage to Japan. Joachim's vessel was before long overtaken by one of the tremendous storms common in those seas, and he was obliged to put into Macao for repairs. Setting sail once more, they were between the Chinese coast and the island of Japan, when a Dutch vessel hove in sight. The Dutch were envious of the Spanish commerce with Japan, and being also bitterly hostile to the Catholic faith, they joined with the Japanese in the persecution. Joachim, therefore, concealed the two fathers on the approach of the Dutch vessel, but they were betrayed by one of the Pagan sailors, and out of hatred to them, as supposed Spanish merchants, the ship and everything belonging to it was captured, and taken to the harbour of Firando. The Dutch suspected that the two Spaniards were Missionaries, though they would not acknowledge the fact, and accordingly tortured them most barbarously to extract the truth. They were thrust into a dark and fetid den, fed with rice and water, hung up by a rope with a weight attached to their feet, and Father Flores was bound to a chair, that large quantities of water might be forced down his throat, nearly suffocating him ; but nothing could induce them to acknowledge their character of missionaries. The Christians of Nagasaki were horrified at the news, of these barbarities, and several plans were concerted for the rescue of the fathers. Father Didacus CoUado, of the Order of S. Dominic, tried to bribe the Dutch sentinel, but this not succeeding, he induced Lewis Yakiki, a Tertiary of S. Dominic, to undertake the dangerous enterprise of rescuing the fathers. His character specially fitted him for this bold adventure. His vigorous and active frami& was in keeping with the intrepid courage that filled his heart, and, naturally fond of adventure, when the cause of religion called for an exhibition of bravery and efndurance, nothing could daunt the noble spirit of the young Tertiary. The original spirit of the Third Order, when it was a military confraternity, a spirit of chivalry and martial ardour, tempered and directed by supernatural grace, lived again in this Japanese youth. Four other Christians joined him, and having arranged their plans and recommended themselves to God and the prayers of their fellowChristians, the five young men left Nagasaki, and sailed in a swift boat to the harbour of Firando. They managed to rescue the two fathers, though Fiords was almost drowned in entering the boat, and no sooner where they embarked than the five stalwart rowers bent eagerly and silently to their work, and the boat under sail and oars skimmed swiftly over the calm water towards Nagasaki. The Dutch pursued, and soon gained upon them, owing to the rope that secured the sail suddenly breaking. Seeing they were being overtaken, the Christians rowed to land, and tried to effect their escape on foot, but were apprehended by their enemies and carried back to prison. After this bold attempt the Dutch, enraged at so nearly losing their prize, treated the fathers more cruelly than ever, and shortly afterwards Peter de Zugnica acknowledged himself to be a priest. The Dutch were overjoyed at this confession, and immediately delivered him, Joachim, and the Christian sailors to the king of Firando, who imprisoned them on the island of Quinoxima. Father de Zugnica had confessed that he was a missionary, because he found that certain Japanese had recognised him as having been in the empire before in that character. The reason of their persistent silence on this point was the danger to which the avowal would expose Joachim, but this being removed, Father Fiords also acknowledged himself a priest and a Dominican, and followed his companion to the prison of Quinoxima. Gonrocu, the governor of Nagasaki, was at court when the news arrived from the king of Firando that two missionaries had been captured on board a vessel from Manilla, and had been thrown into prison. The emperor, greatly enraged, ordered Gonrocu to return quickly and slaughter the Christians of Firando, Satsuta, and Nagasaki, and he enforced these commands by threatening the governor that if these orders were not faithfully executed he himself should be the first victim. Gonrocu hated the Christians, but it may well be imagined how much that hatred was inflamed by the emperor's menace. At first he used every endeavour to shake the constancy of the captives, especially of the natives, but they despised his fair promises and laughed at his threats, earnestly desiring to suffer for Christ. Two of the sailors who had been released, gave themselves up, protesting that they, too, were Christians, and as guilty as their companions. On August 19, 1622, Gonrocu, seated on his tribunal, sentenced the two religious and Joachim to be burnt alive. The remaining twelve, of whom one was a Tertiary of S. Dominic and the others members of the Holy Rosary, were condemned to be beheaded. The fathers appeared in their religious habits, and accompanied by executioners armed with long iron forks to arrange the faggots, they were led to the sacred hill where so many had already been sacrificed. After their first examination two Dominican Fathers had obtained access to them and given them the sacraments. Joachim walked along, exhorting the bystanders to forsake the vain service of idols, speaking sometimes what God suggested to his own heart, sometimes acting as interpreter to the missionaries. The guards roughly commanded silence, an order he meekly obeyed ; but afterwards begged to be allowed this last gratification for the few minutes of life that remained. His sweet humility won the permission, and he preached to the people till the procession arrived at the stakes. Seeing that the one prepared for him was badly planted, Joachim secured it himself, and was then loosely fastened to it. The wood of the sacrifice was piled round him and the two priests, but, before the fire was kindled, they had to witness the death of their twelve companions. Opposite the stakes a small enclosure had been raised, and within stood an executioner with drawn sword. One by one the twelve martyrs entered this enclosure, and their heads were immediately struck off. The fires were then kindled, but at some distance from the stakes, so that the martyrs were almost suffocated by the smoke, while the gradually-increasing heat scorched and roasted them. They stood, however, motionless, enduring the torment by the help of earnest prayer for two long hours. Father Peter invoked the glorious S. Augustine, and Father Lewis answered, *' Let us persevere ; S. Augustine is with us." At last death released them, and they received the martyr's palm. Father Lewis Flores fell first, Joachim second, and lastly Father Peter de Zugnica.

For the space of four days and nights the hallowed remains of these martyrs remained exposed, in order that the Dutch, who had denounced them as disobedient to the emperor's decrees, might have the satisfaction of seeing that the supposed crime had been duly punished.

During this time their eyes remained open and fixed on the heavens, which fact, considered as supernatural, is attested in the processes at Manilla. Gonrocu afterwards allowed them to be buried, and a devout widow named Agnes of Corea bought the relirs jpf Father Lewis FlQr^s, and carried them to her house, where Dominican fathers were accustomed to assemble.

After the martyrdom of Father Peter Vasquez, Father Lewis's body was sent to Manilla, and buried in the church of the Friars Preachers. Father Peter Zugnica's relics were deposited in the church of the Jesuit fathers in Macao. The names of these martyrs occur in the list of those recently beatified.