The Augustinian Martyrs of Japan
he history of the Augustinian mission in seventeenth century Japan contains the glorious account of more than 100 friars, tertiaries, and members of the Archconfraternity of Our Mother of Consolation who shed their blood for the faith. This group represents the countries of Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain, as well as various branches of the Augustinian family. In 1867 twelve of these martyrs were beatified by Pope Pius IX.
The Augustinians formally set out from the Phillippines to begin the mission of Japan in 1602. They quickly established churches and won many converts to the faith. From the very start they accepted candidates for the Augustinian Order and zealously promoted the Third Order of Saint Augustine and the Archconfraternity of Our Mother of Consolation. It was not long, however, before the persecutions began and the religious, as well as their newly converted Japanese Christian brothers and sisters, were called upon to pay a great price for their belief.
One of the first martyrs was Fernando Ayala, of an illustrious family of Castile, He was born in 1575 in Valestros, Spain, and joined the Order at the age of eighteen while on a visit to relatives in Montilla. Fernando excelled in studies and was invited to teach at his alma mater, the University of Alcala de Hernares. However, when an appeal was made by the mission procurator from the Phillippines for volunteers for the new mission of the Augustinian Order in Japan, Fernando was the first to step forward. In 1603 he resigned his teaching position and arrived in Japan in December 1604. Among his foundations was that of Nagasaki, where his great fervor, compassion, and patience encouraged many to the faith. In every mission center he established the Archconfraternity and the Third Order for the continued spiritual development of new Christians. He composed several textbooks for catechetical instruction and set up living quarters for the elderly, for the infirm, and for delinquents. On 27 January 1614, the emperor signed a decree for the expulsion of the missionaries and the destruction of their churches. In the face of torture, Fernando was immovable. He consoled and encouraged his converts to remain faithful to their beliefs. Finally he was beheaded in 1617.
In the same year Andrew Yoshida, one of Fernando’s catechists and president of the Archconfraternity of Our Mother of Consolation, was also beheaded. Peter Zuniga arrive in Japan in 1618, but was forced to return to the Phillippines when the governor of Nagasaki learned that he was the son of the Viceroy of New Spain and therefore could not be sentenced to death. Two years later, however, Peter returned, was captured, tortured, and finally burned alive. Over a thousand neophytes witnessed his martyrdom.
The oblates John Shozabuco, Michael Kiuchi Tayemon, Peter Kuhieye, Thomas Teria Kahioye, and tertiaries Mancio Seisayemon and Lawrence Hachizo were beheaded on 28 October 1630.
Batholomew Gutierrez, a Mexican, arrived in Japan from Manila in 1612. In the beginning he was forced to spend his daylight hours hidden in a cave and minister to the Japanese Christian Community in the darkness of night. Betrayed by a former Christian, he and his catachist John Shozabaco were arrested on 10 November 1629. While John was beheaded in 1630, the torments of Batholomew began in earnest in December 1631, when he was submitted to the painful torture of hot sulphur baths which has succeeded in bringing many Christians to renounce their faith. Because of his constancy his torturers had physicians heal his wounds so that he could be tortured again and again. He was finally burned alive on 3 September 1632, together with Francis of Jesus and Vincent of Saint Anthony. These two latter Augustinians were members of the Order’s congregation of Recollects. They arrived in Nagasaki in October 1623 and were received there by Father Bartholomew. After six years of intense missionary activity they also became his companions in death.
The memory of these twelve members of the Augustinian Family is observed on 28 September.
Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Augustinian Martyrs of Japan, Colegio Augustinos Filipinos, Valladolid, Spain.