Wednesday 20 March 2024

Martyrs of Nagasaki - Lucian Hunt - CTS Books

Martyrs of Nagasaki
Father Lucian Hunt, OFM
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9780851837079
CTS Booklet H483

Martyrs of Nagasaki - Lucian Hunt - CTS Books

Several years ago I discovered the books and booklets of the Catholic Truth Society, I have since found them to be a treasure trove. They are excellent for growing in the faith, learning our history, and finding out about saints and Martyrs. Most of the booklets I have read today have a B in the booklet number but this one is a H marking it as a history. I stumbled across the name of this volume when doing research for Martyrs of Korea by Richard Rutt. I discovered this list:

Martyrs of Uganda - Joanna Bogle   
Martyrs of Vietnam - Bob Bloomfield  
Martyrs of Korea - Richard Rutt

But have had a hard time tracking them all down. I am thankful I was finally able to receive a scanned copy of this out of print volume. The description on the back of the booklet is:

“This is the true story of the men who brought Christianity to Japan in the sixteenth century. Their mission began with astonishing success but ended in persecution and tragedy: on 5 February 1595 twenty-six Christians were executed with great cruelty on a hill outside Nagasaki. The martyrs included six Franciscan missionaries and twenty native Japanese whose conversion to Christ had cost them their lives.”

The chapters in this small volume are:

The Black Ships
The Edict of Banishment
The coming of the Franciscans
Condemned to death
The Martyrs

There was attached a letter from the author with a correction. One of the lay martyrs had been left off the list of names, St. Thomas Danki was the omitted name. I highlighted a few passages while reading this volume, they were:

“THE story begins in 1542, when a storm cast a Portuguese ship on to the shores of Japan, then practically unknown to the West. On board were three Franciscan priests: Antony of Nota, Francis Zaimoto and Antony Peixata. They remained with the ship's crew in Japan for several years. When they returned to Goa they took three Japanese with them. A year later the three were baptized.”

“When Francis left for China after two years and three months in Japan he left behind a Christian community of some two thousand faithful. Jesuit priests carried on the mission and many more conversions followed. By 1570 Japan had about 30,000 Christians and the missionaries were beginning to make inroads into central Japan.”

“But the joy of the missionaries was to be short-lived. On the night of 24-25 July 1587 Hideyoshi suddenly issued an Edict of Banishment against the Jesuits. They had to leave Japan within twenty days, on pain of death. All outward signs of Christianity were to be removed from the dress and equipment of the Samurai (warriors). Jesuit-owned property was to be confiscated and all churches closed.”

“In the event, the Edict was never fully implemented. Very few of the missionaries left and many continued to live and preach in Japan in secret. Although Nagasaki was handed back by the Jesuits, it was not long before they were to regain control.

But from now on Hideyoshi was suspicious of Christians, and especially of foreign missionaries.”

“While the Jesuits now worked almost in secret and with great caution, the Franciscans, delighted by Hideyoshi's friendly reception, celebrated Mass openly and wore religious dress in public. In retrospect it is easy to see that Hideyoshi's warmth towards the Franciscans had more to do with the profits he hoped to make from the Spanish trade they would bring with them rather than with a genuine conversion to Christianity.”

“His suspicions that the Spanish missionaries represented a new threat to his position were confirmed. He was furious and ordered the immediate house arrest of the Franciscans in Kyoto and Osaka, together with three Jesuits: Paul Miki, an eminent Japanese preacher, and two other Jesuit brothers.”

“On 13 December, Hideyoshi sentenced twenty-six Christians to death. On 30 December, they were transferred to the city jail. After singing the Te Deum, Pedro Bautista spoke words of comfort and encouragement to them. Three days later they began the journey of eight hundred kilometres from Kyoto to Nagasaki in the bitter cold of winter.”

“It is not possible to tell here all that the martyrs suffered during that terrible journey to Nagasaki along snow-covered roads, over mountains and through dense forests, in chains and enduring thirst and privation. But at last, on 5 February 1597, they arrived at the gates to the town. The Governor had chosen the top of a hill near the coast, known as the Hill of Wheat, for the execution. There twenty-six crosses were erected; six in the centre for the Spanish Franciscans, the rest on either side, for the Japanese. It is now called the Hill of Martyrs.”

“The Christians immediately rushed forward to dip linen cloths in the martyrs' blood and cut pieces from their habits. The bodies hung on the Hill of Wheat for two months unmolested by birds of prey. It was said that balls of fire appeared over the heads of the martyrs and that Pedro's body was several times absent from his cross and he was seen saying Mass in Kyoto.”

“Hideyoshi died the following year, and limited toleration for Christians followed. By 1611, there were eleven churches and 40,000 Catholics in Nagasaki. By 1614 there were nearly two hundred missionaries in Japan and more than 400,000 Christians.”

“Over the next few months the missionaries learnt to their astonishment that there were more than 15 ,000 Christians in Japan, descendants of seventeenth century Christians, who had preserved their faith for two hundred years despite persecution and lack of priests. Today, the Church in Japan is a small but flourishing community, respected by all, and enjoying complete religious freedom. The blood of the glorious martyrs was not shed in vain.”

This was a fascinating little read. It is a small volume so it gives a quick and concise overview. It does leave the reader wanting more. It is well written and easily accessible. It would be a great introduction for a secondary school student. Another great and valuable read from the CTS, one I can easily recommend if you can lay your hands on it.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books in the 20th Century Martyrs Series:
Sophie Scholl and the White Rose: Resistance to the Nazis - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky
Johann Gruber & Jacques Bunel Victims of the Nazis - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky
Maximilian Kolbe, F. Jagerstatter, K. Leisner, R. Mayer: Victims of the Nazis - Franz Jagerstatter
Edith Stein, Marcel Callo, Titus Brandsma: Victims of the Nazis – Matthew Monk
Saint Maria Goretti: Teenage Martyr for Chastity - Glynn MacNiven-Johnston
The Atlas Martyrs – Jean Olwen Maynard

Jerzy Popieluszko Victim of Communism - Grazyna Sikorski
Isidore Bankanja - Jean Maynard

Gianna Molla - Jean Olwen Maynard

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