The Japanese Martyrs

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by Giuseppe Boero, SJ

Martyrs of Japan

Six Martyrs of the Order of Saint Francis (Franciscans)

Father Peter Baptist was born in Spain, and studied at the Salamanca University. He was a brilliant scholar. Joining the Franciscan at the age of twenty-two, he was later ordained and took up duties as professor of philosophy and superior of the Friary. In 1581, he went to the missions in the Philippines. When the Governor General of the Philippines sent an ambassador to Japan, Father Baptist and three Franciscan friars went. They arrived in Japan in 1593. From that time Father Baptist cared for the poor and did other charitable work until his death as a martyr at the age of forty-eight.

Father Martin de la Ascension was born in Spain; he was a gifted theologian and an eloquent preacher. He came to Japan in 1596, with Father Blanco. He was thirty years old when he was seized in Osaka and martyred.

Father Francis Blanco was born in Galicia, Spain, and studied under Father Martin. He was ordained a priest in Mexico, on his way from Spain to the Philippines. He was only six months in Japan when he was martyred at the age of thirty.

Brother Philip de Jesus was born in Mexico. His father was an emigrant and he was a descendant of the de Las Casas, a noble family in Spain. As successor to his father he became a merchant in Manila until he joined the Franciscans. He desired to become a priest and completed his studies in Manila, but unfortunately there was no bishop there to ordain him. He was on his way to Mexico when his ship went off course and harbored in Japan. Hearing that a bishop was in Kyoto he went there to be ordained; instead he was captured there and martyred at the age of twenty-four years.

Brother Gonzalo Garcia was born of Portuguese parents in Eastern India.He came to Japan as an interpreter with Father Peter Baptist. He had formerly been in Japan as a catechist with the Society of Jesus. Desiring to enter the Society, but being refused admittance, he left Japan and became a merchant. Later he joined the Franciscan Society. He could speak Japanese fairly well.

Brother Francis de San Miguel was born in Spain; he was a gentle old friar of fifty-three years of age. He had very little knowledge of either reading or writing, but his works of charity were powerful examples, preaching in deed, not words.

The Three Members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

Paul Miki was more famous for his virtuous life than his eloquence and all who knew him were very impressed. He preached the Gospel in Kyushu for a while but as he was more suited for teaching the high Samurai class he was sent to Kyoto, Osaka, and the neighboring districts. He was apprehended in that area and received the crown of martyrdom. Had he not been martyred he might have become the first Japanese priest.

John Soan was born in Hizen, Goto. From his childhood he had been close to the Jesuits and assisted their works. He later became a catechist and worked in Osaka. He joined the Society of Jesus just before he was martyred at the age of nineteen.

James Kisai was an older man, sixty-four years of age. It is said that his birthplace is Bizen. He often meditated on the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ had suffered willingly and was crucified on the Cross in order to save mankind. This thought had become the center of his spiritual life. Thus he thought it was the greatest pleasure to make sacrifices for the love of others. He lived and worked  in the monastery of the Jesuit Fathers in Osaka. His job was guest-master and he received visitors when they came. He also worked as a catechist. He was formally received into the Society of Jesus just before his death.

The Fourteen Laymen Martyrs

Leo Karasumaru (Curusama) was from Owari. He was Paul Ibaragi’s younger brother and Louis Ibaragi’s uncle. Perhaps he was a Samurai. A Jesuit missionary baptized him in 1589. When the Franciscan missionaries came to Kyoto he joined them in mission work until his martyrdom. He was not an educated man, but he loved to teach Catholic doctrine, and he defended the Faith against all who spoke ill of it. Together with his wife, he took great care of the patients in the leper hospital of the Franciscan missionaries at Kyoto. Daily he would wash the patient’s bodies and carry their clothes to the river to wash them. He meditated on the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of human souls and taught this doctrine to the people.

Paul Ibaragi was born in Owari; he was Leo Karasumaru’s elder brother. He had formerly been a Samurai, but at the time of his arrest he was a poor artisan.  He was very clever and the most influential catechist the Franciscan missionaries had. He knew all the tenets of Buddhism and could refute them. His preaching was very efficacious. He accompanied Father Peter Baptist on all occasions. On his way to be crucified in Nagasaki he sent letters to fellow Christians, to his wife and his mother, asking them not to prevent his martyrdom, but to live in the Faith and Charity of Christ until the end.

Francis was born in Kyoto. He was a doctor of noble birth, but we do not know his Japanese name. When Hideyoshi led an expedition to conquer Korea, Francis followed the army. It was there that he accidently heard Catholic doctrine which a certain  Christian of Otomo family in Bungo was explaining. Admiring what he heard, he learned the doctrine of Christianity. Later returning to Japan, he was baptized at Kyoto by a Franciscan missionary, just one year before his martyrdom at the age of forty-six. He was outstanding for his charity towards the poor and for zeal in teaching others about Christianity. When the police came to capture him, he was explaining Catholic doctrine. On his way to Nagasaki he sent letters to his fellow Christians and to his wife at Kyoto. These letters are still preserved. He forgot his own sufferings and did his best to encourage others.

Thomas Danki who was from Kyoto had been baptized by a Jesuit many years before his martyrdom. He interpreted or read lectures and lived with the Franciscan missionaries.

Paul Suzuki was from Owari; he was forty-seven years of age when he died.  He had been baptized by a Jesuit eleven years earlier at the age of thirty-six. After the arrival of the Franciscan missionaries in Japan, he worked with them as a catechist.

Bonaventure whose Japanese name is not known, was born in Kyoto of Christian parents. While Bonaventure was yet a baby, his mother died. Growing up in ignorance of Catholic doctrine he became a Bonze, a Buddhist monk. One day he found out that he had been baptized and was a Christian, so he determined to learn Christian doctrine. He visited the Franciscan Monastery at Kyoto and because the atmosphere of the monastery attracted him, he studied there for a while. Later he desired to join the Society of Jesus, and lived there with a few other young men. He was seized there and lead to martyrdom.

Gabriel, whose Japanese name is not known, came from Ise on the island of Honshu. He was nineteen years of age. He came to Kyoto with his father. After his father became gatekeeper at the Franciscan Monastery, Gabriel was baptized and entering the Franciscan Order he began his studies with Bonaventure.

Michael Kozaki came from Ise. He moved to Kyoto and lived near the Franciscan Monastery working his trade of making bows and arrows. He was the father of Thomas Kozaki, one of the three child martyrs.

John Kinuya was born in Kyoto. A carpenter by trade, he was caught with the Franciscans and was martyred at the age of twenty-eight.

Kosuma Takeya from Owari had been received into the Church years before by the Franciscan missionaries. By trade, he was a sword maker, but when he was apprehended he had become a catechist with the Franciscans. He was seized with Father Martin.

Joachim Sakakibara, about forty years old, was a cook at the Franciscan Monastery in Osaka.

Matthias lived near the Franciscan Monastery at Kyoto. When the police came with a list seeking out the Christians, one named Matthias was missing. The missing Matthias, being a cook had been  permitted to leave even after the guards had been placed. It was while he was out buying things that the police called for Matthias. There was no response. Then they began to search for him. Hearing the police calling, the martyr Matthias came forward, his name being the same, although he was not the Matthias that was written on the list. However, he earnestly asked the police to allow him to join the band of martyrs, and the police, who had to make up the numbers, gladly arrested him.

Francis Kichi, whose birthplace and age are unknown, was baptized by a Franciscan Missionary about eight months before his death. A carpenter by trade, he lived near the monastery and worked for the missionaries. He was absent when the martyrs were seized. When he returned home he heard the news and was anxious because he alone remained. He hurried to the prison with a bottle of sake and besought the police to let him join the martyrs, but his request was not granted. When the band of martyrs was drawn away he tried to ride on the carriage also, but was forcibly pushed away. Undaunted he followed after them. On the way to Nagasaki his desire was at last realized, for he too was arrested and placed with the prisoners.

Peter Sukejiro was a young man from Kyoto. After the captives had set out for Nagasaki, old Father Soldi could not be at peace with himself, knowing that no matter how closely the martyrs imitated Christ, their troubles would be many and great. He wanted someone to pay attention to their needs. After much consideration, he found Peter Sukejiro, a very gentle young man. Peter and Francis Kichi assisted the party of martyrs.

The Three Child Martyrs

Thomas Kozaki The fourteen-year-old son of Michael Kozaki, was born in Ise. When eleven years of age he lived at the Franciscan Monastery with other boys and studied Christian doctrine. When taken prisoner, he was in Osaka with Father Martin. There is a letter still extant, which Thomas wrote to his mother while being taken to Nagasaki. He said that he was gladly going to martyrdom with twenty-two others. He asked his mother not to worry about him or his father, since they would go to Heaven together and wait for his mother to come. “Please come early,” he wrote, “You must fear sin very much, since that caused Our Lord much suffering. If you commit a sin, you must confess and ask Our Lord’s forgiveness. The pleasures of this world appear like a dream and fade away to nothing as a dream does. You must not forget everlasting happiness. If there is anyone who persecutes you, never hate him. Love him as Our Lord did on the cross. Please take care of my lovely younger brother. I am always praying for you.”

Anthony was born in Nagasaki of a Chinese father and a Japanese mother. We do not know his Japanese name. His parents had entrusted him to the priests of the Society of Jesus. When the Franciscan Missionaries came to Nagasaki, they welcomed him to study with them. He stayed for a while in Nagasaki, but about eight months before his martyrdom he went to Kyoto where he was arrested.  He was a very pious boy and knew his doctrine very well. As the fatal spear was thrust into his side, be began to sing in Latin, Psalm 113, Laudate Pueri  Dominum. He was thirteen years old when he gave his life for Christ.

Louis Ibaragi was only twelve years old and the youngest of the twenty-six martyrs. He was Leo Karasumaru and Paul Ibaragi’s nephew. Baptized only ten months before, he was living at the missionaries’ house in Kyoto when taken. He was the flower of the twenty-six martyrs. Before he breathed his last, he cried out, “Heaven – Jesus – Mary.” The surrounding crowds were impressed by his courage and joy.

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