Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Samurai with the Cross

Last week 188 Japanese martyrs were beatified at Nagasaki. Put to death between 1606 and 1639, they were led by Fr Peter Kibe Kasui who was converted by St Francis Xavier's group of Jesuit missionaries. Within 50 years, the Jesuits had converted 400,000 Japanese to Christianity.

Blessed Peter Kibe was tortured to death by being hung upside down with his head immersed in a pit filled with excrement and animal carcasses. I wonder if he mentally recited Psalm 39?
Expectans expectavi Dominum et intendit mihi et exaudivit preces meas et eduxit me de lacu miseriae et de luto faecis
The Douai-Rheims translates this as: "With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and he was attentive to me. And he heard my prayers, and brought me out of the pit of misery and the mire of dregs." But the plural of faex is faeces which fits the situation. He must have been gladder than many to depart this life and go to heaven.

In his article The Samurai with the Cross, Sandro Magister reports:
The initial flowering of Christianity was followed by terrible persecutions. Many people were killed, with an unprecedented cruelty that did not spare women and children. In addition to the killings, the Catholic community was decimated by the apostasy of those who abjured the faith out of fear. But it was not annihilated. Part of it went underground, and kept the faith alive by transmitting it from parents to children for two centuries, even without bishops, priests, and sacraments. It is recounted that on Good Friday in 1865, ten thousand of these "kakure kirisitan," hidden Christians, emerged from the villages and presented themselves in Nagasaki to the astonished missionaries who had just recently regained access to Japan.
In a prelude to this major gathering, Fr Jacques Monet SJ tells the story of fifteen Japanese Christians who go to see Father Bernard Petitjean, a priest of the French Societe des Missions Etrangeres at his mission in Nagasaki. Thanks to Catholic Canada for the rest of the story:
One 60-year-old lady kneels beside him and asks whether he considers this to be the 17th day of the time of sadness (Lent), and whether the next day is the eve of the feast of Saint Joseph. He answers yes. she places her hand on her heart and says: "The hearts of all of us here do not differ from yours."

Then a young man speaks up. His name is Peter. He is a catechist, he says timidly, and wonders whether Father Petitjean owes allegiance to "the great chief of the Kingdom of Rome." The missionary answers that the Vicar of Christ, Pope Pius IX, will be very happy to learn of their interest.

Peter, however, wants to make sure he has been understood. He asks, "Have you no children'?" "You and all your brethren," answers the missionary, "Christian and others are the children whom God has given me. Other children I cannot have. The priest must, like the first apostles of Japan, remain all his life unmarried." At this, Peter and his friends bend their heads down to the ground and cry out: "He is celibate! Thank God." Then they mention their village: "At home, everybody is the same as we are. They have the same hearts as we."

By now the priest is weeping with joy. He invites the small group in. There are 25 "Christianities" in the area, they explain, and seven ''Baptizers." They have longed for the return of priests. In a few days Father Petitjean will indeed meet some 2,500 well-instructed, devout and practicing Christians. Later, in Kyushu, another 15,000. They will all be fully instructed and devout. Cut off from all contact with the outside world, they will have all lived faithful to the memory of their ancestors who died for Christ, long ago.
I looked up a list of English Martyrs - in the same period, St Edmund Arrowsmith, St John Almond, St Thomas Garnet, and many others who have not been canonised were joining the Japanese Martyrs in heaven.

Sanguis martyrum semen Christianorum.
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