Prior’s Letter

Ave Maria Immaculata!

Minamahal kong mga kapatid at mga kaibigan,

The year of Fatima 100 started!

By grace of God, I could visit the Church under construction at Saint Bernard Novitiate. The Church is to be dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to be consecrated on the coming May 13th by His Excellency Bishop Fellay. All the brothers are working hard for the construction.

Also, by special Providence, I was with Fr Tim for the “Mary’s Mission Tour” in Camiguin on Jan 14th and 15th at Mahinog, Camiguin. We walked all around and around Camiguin to announce the Mass and imposition of scapulars.

While we are honoring Our Lady of Fatima, on the other side, the serpent of old is agitating this world. It seems that the battle started already between Our Lady and Serpent! Why? Because I was informed about the news of a new movie by Martin Scorsese about martyrdom in Japan:“Silence”. Allow me to tell you about this story.

Movie “Silence”

The movie is based on a 1966 novel with the same title by Japanese Catholic writer Shusaku Endo (1923-1996). Since the movie itself is not available while I am writing this article, allow me to tell the story according to the novel which I had read as High School student years ago. Its’ setting is the most anti-Christian Japan in 17th century. The main personages are two young Jesuit priests who go to Japan to find out their former superior, Fr Christovao Ferreira, about whom they heard that he had left the Catholic faith. Their zeal to meet the apostate Jesuit Provincial is so great that they are ready to do everything in order to ask him to recant his apostasy and to become themselves also martyrs.

In spite of horror of tortures endured by Japanese martyrs, they persevere in the Faith rather than to renounce it by trampling on an image of Jesus Christ or the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues, one of the two volunteers to seek their confrere, prays for a miracle so that the Christians would escape from persecution, but nothing happens. It appears God keeps silence, as if God were absent.

One of the faithful, Kichijiro, very feckless, made a report about the Padre to the government. Fr. Rodriguez is arrested and finds out Ferreira as his own inquisitor. While in a prison at night, Rodrigues noticed a strange sneezing like sound. He complained about it to Ferreira. The lattertold that this is the sound of suffering Christians under torture. They had renounced the faith already but their torture would not stop unless Rodrigues steps on the holy image as a sign of denial of the Faith.

Ferreira explains to Rodrigues: If Christ were here, He would apostatize for their sake. To give up your faith is the most painful act of love.

Rodrigues agrees to make this act. Next morning, just before the trampling, Rodrigues hears the voice of Christ : “You may trample. You may trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried My Cross.”

After the public sign of apostasy, Rodrigues sees Kichijiro coming to him begging his pardon. Rodrigues hears again the voice of Christ through Kichijiro: “I did not keep silence. I was suffering with you.”

Then, he believes having understood the alleged true meaning of Christianity for the first time, and realized that it is he who is the remaining Christian Priest.

The real historical fact behind “Silence”

The news about Christovão Ferreira’s apostasy in 1633 shocked the Catholic world. Many prayers and sacrifices were offered. Many Jesuits from several Provinces volunteers to go to seek him and to die martyrs in expiation of his apostasy.

Especially in Nagasaki from March 1633 to August 1634, we saw one of the most violent phase of history against Catholics. They started a systematic search for priests and faithful together with a new kind of torture, the ana-tsurushi, the pit.

“They dug a pit some feet deep, and above it they erected a frame from which the body was hung up by the feet. To prevent the blood flowing into the head and causing death too quickly, they tied the body tightly with ropes and cords. The hands were tied behind the back, and the prisoner was lowered into the pit down to his belt or navel or even down to his knees and legs. The pit was then closed by two boards which were cut in such wise that they surrounded the body in the middle and let no light enter. In this fashion they kept the man hanging upside down without food, poised between life and death and in doubt about the final outcome, until the slowly rising blood pressure brought about complete exhaustion, or else hunger entirely sapped his physical strength. Or until, worn out by the torment, loneliness and solitude, he finally succumbed to this deadly torture and renounced his faith while there was still life left in him.” (1633 Jesuit annual letter from the Philippines)

From a psychological viewpoint, this torture rendered clear thinking and genuine moral decision quite impossible within a short period of time. The officials were anxious to exert the maximum psychological effect on the Christian faithful by publicizing the cases of these apostate priests.

Both psychological and moral pressure was added to the physical torments, and, especially when dealing with women and girls, the officials strove to break the prisoners’ self-respect and reduce them to moral wrecks. Apostate priests were forced to live with women, usually widows of executed criminals.

The list of the priests and religious who died in the pit is long and impressive.

The Japanese Jesuit Nicolas Keian Fukunaga suffered for three days before dying on 31 July 1633. In the period 13-16 August, Manuel Borges, two Jesuit Brothers, and three catechists died in the same way.

On 15 August a Japanese Franciscan expired in the pit, while a few days later the Augustinian Francisco de Gracia, the Dominican Diego de S. Maria, and four companions died in the same way. At Shimabara the Jesuit Antonio Giannone and Brother João Kidera were martyred on 28-29 August; immediately afterwards the Dominican friars Domingo de Erquicia and Francisco, together with eight other Christians, were strung up at Nagasaki.

In September or October the Jesuit João Yama died in Edo, while on 29 September-2 October Bento Fernández and Paulo Sait? suffered in the pit at Nagasaki.

The next group, also at Nagasaki consisting of Jesuits João da Costa, Sixto Tokuun, and Damião Fukae, together with the Franciscan João Miyasaki and four Christians, suffered on 4-10 October

On 18 October another outstanding group of arrested priests and religious were led to the pit at Nishizaka, Nagasaki, where the first 26 martyrs had offered their lives 36 years before. The band included Christovão Ferreira, Superior of the Jesuit mission; Antonio de Souza, the Superior of the Dominican friars; Julian Nakaura, (the Jesuit who had set out for Rome in 1582 as one of the four youthful Kyushu legates, died on October 21, on the fourth day in the pit. His final words were, “I accept this great suffering for the love of God.” He was beatified on November 24, 2008, during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, together with 187 other Japanese Martyrs.); Giovanni Battista Adami; Lucas del Espiritu Santo O.P. (1594- 1633, canonized on 18 October 1987 in Rome by John Paul II); the Japanese Brothers Pedro and Matteo, who had entered the Society of Jesus while lying in prison; and Francisco, who had become a Dominican friar in the same circumstances. All seven died as martyrs except for Ferreira.

After hanging in the pit for five painful hours, Christovão Ferreira gave in. He was 53 years old at the time and had spent 37 years as a Jesuit.

The disturbing news of Ferreira’s fall from grace arrived in Macao. The Jesuit Visitor Palmeiro and other Jesuits in Macao started to offer special prayers and penances for the conversion of their fallen brother. As a consequence of the many fasts and scourgings Palmeiro undertook after receiving the news about Fr Ferreira, he died on 14 April 1635. Most of the Jesuits in Macao wanted to go to Japan and were ready to give their lives for Ferreira so that he might reach the heights of martyrdom. Fr Christovão Ferreira was dismissed from the Society of Jesus on 2 November 1636. Ferreira’s apostasy under torture was the greatest success of anti-Christian policy. Apostatized priests served as living proof of the alleged evil of the forbidden religion. The government took advantage of this golden opportunity. Many Japanese reports provide indirect evidence.

There were three specific attempts to contact Ferreira and persuade him to renounce his apostasy.

The first attempt was made by the Italian Jesuit Marcello Mastrilli (1603-1637). He sailed to Japan, was arrested immediately on disembarkation, and condemned to death in the pit at Nagasaki. On 17 October 1637, after three days of the torment, he was pulled out of the pit and beheaded.

The second attempt was made by the Japanese Jesuit Blessed Pedro Kibe (Kasui), who was condemned to death in the pit at Edo in July 1639. According to some reports Kibe addressed a fervent speech to Ferreira on his meeting him in Edo and admonished him to repent.

Pedro Kibe walked to Rome from Goa, India, in order to be admitted to become Jesuit. He was the first Japanese who went to the Holy Land. While at Roman College in Rome, he witnessed the death of his classmate Saint John Berchmans (13 August 1621), as well as that of Saint Robert Bellarmine (17 September 1621). He participated in Rome, as Japanese, in the canonizations of Saint Ignatius Loyola and of Saint Francis Xavier (12 March 1622). With a permission of his superior, he left Lisbon for Japan on 25 March 1623, to save souls of his compatriots. When he arrived at Japan, he was already 43 year old. He worked in Nagasaki at first, then Kyoto, and Sendai until arrest.

In the course of 1638-9, the three Jesuits Giovanni Battista Porro, Martinho Shikimi and Pedro Kibe, and two Franciscan friars, were arrested and taken to Edo. The two friars were condemned to the stake at Shinagawa, while the three Jesuits were submitted to the pit torture; Porro and Shikimi apostatized, but Kibe remained steadfast and was killed. The Japanese official records read: “Kibe Pedro did not renounce. Killed hung at the pit. Because he encouraged the others, Kibe was killed.” 340 years later, the same official word of the Anti-Christian officer, became the title of a musical which praises the martyrdom of Blessed Pedro Kibe.

The third attempt was made by Antonio Rubino. In 1638, after working in the Indian mission,Rubino was sent to Macao at his own request and was nominated Visitor in October 1639. In 1642 Rubino went to Manila, to set out to Japan with a large group of missionaries, consisting of nine priests, one Brother and several catechists.

The expedition was divided into two groups to keep discretion. Rubio left for Japan with four priests on 4 July 1642, while the second group, under the leadership of Pedro Márquez, set out in 1643.

On 11 August 1642 Rubino and his companions’ ship reached Japan and they were immediately apprehended and brought to Nagasaki. There on 22 August they were closely interrogated, and then led to the prison at ?mura. On 16 March 1643, they were condemned to the pit torture and died. The last three members who survived still after nine days of this torment, and were pulled out of the pit and beheaded.

On 27 June 1643 the Second Rubino Group, consisting of the Jesuits Pedro Márquez, Alfonso Arroyo, Francisco Cassola, Giuseppe Chiara and six companions, landed on ?shima in Chikuzen and were immediately arrested.

In Nagasaki, Marquez was subject to water torture, There were several types of water torture in use including forcing the victim to swallow great amounts of water with a funnel and then beating his belly with bamboo rods. Eventually Marquez survived from this torture.

By order of the government all four were sent to Edo on 27 July for Inquisition. The prisoners reached Edo on 27 August. There they were frequently questioned by the supreme court and even by the shogun, Iemitsu, himself. Ferreira was present as interpreter at the trial. He was ordered to go to Edo from Nagasaki to be the interpreter for these proceedings. What an irony!

They were condemned to the torture of the pit, where, according to the report of the inquisitor, they all apostatized: four Italian Jesuits. They were then allowed to live in Japan under confinement “Christian house”, and given Japanese names. The location of this famous “Christian House” (Kirishitan Yashiki) is just near the SSPX Mass center in Tokyo.

Giuseppe Chiara’s last name was changed to Okamoto, and he was given a Japanese wife. Nothing more is known of the fate of the three, we know only that Chiara remained until his death forty years later in 1685. Before he died, he stated that he was still a Christian. This Chiara is the model of Sebastian Rodrigues in “Silence”.

Ferreira’s death

Fr. Josef Franz Schütte, S.J. (1906-1981) made a critical investigation about Ferreira’s martyrdom using original European documents preserved in Rome. At the end of his research he summarizes the various accounts as follows:

“Fr Ferreira was already more than 80 years old, and for years had been confined to bed by sickness and weakness. A great change took place in his soul and his deed now appeared to him in a completely different light. He abhorred his action as a cowardly betrayal of God and expressed his inner convictions in a loud voice. His neighbors heard him talking and finally informed the soldiers of the governor. They visited the house of the sick ts?ya and asked him the reason for his grief. The Father explained to them with all frankness and firmness his sorrow and his inner conversion. The soldiers joked and made fun of him, saying that he was out of his mind, but he contradicted them firmly. On the contrary, he showed himself ready to die for his faith. The soldiers then reported this to the governor, who hesitated for a while but, after he had ascertained the facts, condemned Christovão to death in the pit. The sentence, however, was to be carried out in all secrecy so as to avoid causing excitement in the city. The soldiers returned to Ferreira’s house, and seeing that he remained constant in his intention, they dragged him off to the torture of the pit.

However, they were not able to prevent many Japanese, both Christian and non-Christian, as well as non-Christian Chinese, from attending the martyrdom. The soldiers bound Ferreira and hanged him head downward into the pit. With this torture Ferreira ended his life courageously for Christ.”

Many prayers and sacrifices were offered for the expiation of his apostasy. His last recant of his past denial of faith was the real work of Divine Grace and Mercy. His death was on November 5, 1650. But the government would never have recognized a retraction of his apostasy and might well have tried to cover the matter up.

Some Reflections

The martyrs in Japan knew very well the teaching of Jesus Christ. For instance:”And you shall be hated by all men for my name’ s sake: but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.” (Mt 10:22)

“And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28)

“Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 10:32-33)

“He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it.” (Mt 10:37-39)

Follow Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ crucified for us, this was the desire for the martyrs. Christ crucified, is unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, (and Japanese, too) Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1:25)

The Movie keeps silence

There are silence and silence. Movie’s silence and God’s “silence”.

There are silence and silence. Movie’s silence and God’s “silence”. Rodriguez’s alleged “Christ” tempts keeping silence on the notion of sin, of supernatural grace, the last end, hell, Heaven, objective truth and objective good. This reminds me of the serpent of old.

“Why shouldn’t you trample the holy image?”

“No, you shall not deny me by trampling. You may trample. You may trample.”

“Yes or No are all the same to Me. Think to help the neighbors’ sufferings.”

As if Rodriguez’ Christ was telling that in order to make your neighbor happy, satisfied, you may say no to me. If your friend is suffering because you refuse to commit sin for him, telling him that you are Catholic and that you cannot do that, never mind, you may trample on me and go with him. Satisfy him. Make him happy. I am here to suffer. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. You decide the moral value. I am suffering with you. I know your sorrow of betraying me, but it was to share men’s pain that I carried My Cross.

I would say, this alleged Christ is proposing to take the forbidden fruit of knowledge of good and evil. “Be tolerant. Build the peaceful world. Construct the earthly paradise. Whatever you do, I will forgive. Love man. Instead of worshiping Jesus Christ True God, honor man.” This sounds very much like the new teachings of Vatican II.

God’s “silence”

We will see as if God keeps silence to our prayers, if we take almighty God as a vending machine: place a coin in it (make a sign of the cross), push the button and choose the product you wish to have (make a little prayer), then, voila, you’ve got it! No, Creator of Heaven and earth who is our so good Father is not at our servile disposal as an easy miracle maker.

But when we pray with our faith, He answers with supernatural graces and help. In this way, he does not keep silence because he answers. God speaks loudly about His truth through the mouth of His Catholic Church: about God, about sin, hell, Heaven, objective truth and objective good, etc. “But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.” (Mt 5:36)

True historical Christ teaches us to take the different tree: only this tree of the Cross as tree of Life. When his head-Apostle rebuked Christ: Lord, let the suffering be far from thee, this shall not be unto thee, Our Lord said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. (Mt 16:22-23)

Rodriguez’ alleged Christ asks to trample on Christ. “You may trample.” Every action is morally good. All men are saved whatever they do because I carried the Cross. I am merciful infinitely excluding Divine Justice and His Holiness. You may trample on Christ, on the truth, on the good, on God. What’s good for this world if you refuse to do so?

But Our Lord Jesus Christ asks ut to trample on sin, the occasions of sin, and evil.

We are at the similar situation of Rodriguez in our daily life: we must choose to trample on sin or obedience to God, on Barabbas or on Christ, on Belial or on God, on darkness or on light, on human respect or on God.

If even the Provincial Ferreira fell, how much easier it would be for us to fall! “Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10: 12)

“Wherefore, my dearly beloved, with fear and trembling work out your salvation.” (Phil 2:12)

It is very true that man is weak. Man cannot do anything alone without Jesus Christ. “I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) But “ I can do all these things in him who strengtheneth me.” (Phil 4:13)

What we should do?

In the midst of “silent apostasy” (John Paul II) in this modern world, we are invited to imitate the Catholics in the past when they heard about the apostasy of Ferreira: Prayer and Sacrifice. Our Lady of Fatima says many souls go to hell because no one pray and offer sacrifice for them

In our two chapels in Japan, every year in January, we make a special ceremony of reparation of the sins and blasphemies committed by trampling of holy image in our country. As in Rome during Christmas time, the faithful are invited to kiss the Bambino Jesus, (we do this during Christmas in Japan, as we do here at OLVC) the replica of the trampled holy Image is kissed by all the faithful.

We are also requested to make this prayer of reparation at the apparition of Fatima: “My God, I believe; I adore; I trust, and I love Thee. I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust, and do not love Thee.”

“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I adore Thee profoundly, and I offer Thee the most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.”

In our two chapels in Japan, after each Mass, we say these prayers in Japanese together as thanksgiving.

Rodriguez’ alleged Christ in the movie “Silence” tempted to trample on Christ. God wants us to go to Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Fatima, who shall trample and crush the head of serpent.

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