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Recollect blood spilled in Japan

Hundreds of Augustinians and Augustinian Recollects -religious and tertiary- shed their blood for Christ in the midst of atrocious torments in Japan between 1617 and 1637.

In 1623, barely thirty-five years after the beginning of the Augustinian Recollection, the first Augustinian Recollect missionaries, Francisco de Jesus and Vicente de San Antonio, arrived in Japan from the Philippines. Although the faith was harshly persecuted, the missionaries arrived with the objective of spreading the Word of God. They were successors of the first group of Augustinian Recollect religious who began to arrive in 1602 and which was composed of Hernando de San Jose and his catechist, the bellyed Andres Yoshida -martyred in 1617-; Father Pedro de Zuniga -executed in 1622-; Juan Shozaburo, the Oblates Miguel Kiuchi Tayemon, Pedro Kuhieye and Tomás Terai, and the tertiaries Mancio Seizayemon and Lorenzo Hechizo -martyred in 1630-; and Fathers Bartolomé Gutiérrez, Vicente de San Antonio and Francisco de Jesús -martyred in September 1632-. During those decades, thousands of missionaries of different charisms were tortured and martyred for being Christians and for spreading the message of Christ.

The work of the first group of Recollects quickly bore fruit: soon the Japanese who wanted to live the radical nature of the Augustinian charism began to join. They began their work in the north of Honshu and later in the south. The people heard them gladly and conversions abounded. The Augustinian life attracted the natives, so much so that within a few years there were already religious, tertiaries and waits of Japanese origin. They did so with the help of various Japanese Christians, called dojukus, who acted as catechists and who were in charge of transmitting the teachings of the Augustinian Recollect religious in their language in a clandestine manner. They were Peter, Augustine and Lawrence. The group of five – the two European missionaries and the three Japanese – were captured in 1629.

In prison, the three Japanese -Peter, Augustine and Lawrence, upon being baptized-, in view of their imminent martyrdom, received from Francis of Jesus and Vincent de Saint Anthony the Augustinian Recollect habits. In the letters sent by Francisco de Jesus and Vicente de San Antonio to their superiors in the Philippines – collected in the book ‘Letras de Fuego’ by Pablo Panedas – this is recorded. On October 28, 1630, the three new religious, who had made their profession in prison, were martyred in Nagasaki along with another Augustinian and six tertiaries. It was one of the first groups of Recollects who would shed their blood.

In the prison, Fathers Francisco de Jesus and Vicente de San Antonio asked that new religious be sent to continue the mission of the Augustinian Recollects in Japan. Martin of St. Nicholas and Melchior of St. Augustine then traveled voluntarily from the Philippines. The task entrusted to them was a complicated one: to bring the Gospel to every corner of Japan, without fear of the persecution and suffering that their brothers were already suffering.

In the meantime, Vincent and Francis were taken to the so-called Hell of Uzen at the end of 1631, although they would later return to Nagasaki, where they would later be martyred. On September 3, 1632, Francis of Jesus and Vincent of St. Anthony were burned alive along with their companions from other charisms. The next day, Martin of St. Nicholas and Melchior of St. Augustine arrived in Nagasaki. Their work in Japan would last only two months. On November 1, 1632, they were captured and ten days later they would be burned alive.

Their testimony was not forgotten. On July 7, 1867 they were beatified along with the 205 martyrs of Japan. Not only religious, but also tertiaries. This is the example of St. Magdalene of Nagasaki. At the age of 13 she met Francisco de Jesús and Vicente de San Antonio. She was their dojuku and asked to receive the Augustinian Recollect habit as a tertiary. She expanded the Augustinian Recollect charism and came to baptize several faithful. However, at the age of 23 she decided to give herself to the authorities. She was tied with a rope by her feet and suspended in a pit where it was difficult for her to breathe. However, she sang hymns to God and cried out jaculatory prayers to Jesus and Mary. After resisting for thirteen days, she died by drowning after a huge storm flooded the grave. She was canonized by St. John Paul II on October 18, 1987 along with 15 other martyrs of Japan.

The persecution against Catholics was terrible, but the nascent Japanese Church faced it with admirable courage and fidelity. There were hundreds of Augustinian Recollects – among religious, clergy and tertiaries – who between 1617 and 1637 shed their blood for Christ in the midst of atrocious torments. The memory of the Augustinian Recollect martyrs of Japan is celebrated on 28 September.