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Augustinian Martyrs of Japan

Bl. Fernando Ayala: June 2nd

Bl. Peter Zuniga: August 19th

Bl. John Chocumbuco & Companions: September 28th

The history of the Seventeenth Century Augustinian missions in Japan contain the glorious account of more than 100 Augustinian Friars, Tertiaries, and members of the Archconfraternity of Our Mother of Consolation who shed their blood for the Catholic Faith. These martyrs come from various countries and various branches of the Augustinian Order. In 1867 Blessed John Chocumbuco and eleven of his companions were beatified by Pope Pius IX.

Augustinian missionaries set out from the Phillippines to evangelize 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 Arch-confraternity 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. 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 Arch- confraternity of Our Mother of Consolation, was also beheaded. Peter Zuniga arrived in Japan in 1618, but was forced to return to the Philippines 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 Chocambuco, Michael Kiuchi Tayemon, Peter Kuhieye, Thomas Jihyoe, 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 Bartholomew began in earnest in December 1631, when he was submitted to the painful torture of hot sulfur 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.

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