Japanese martyr-priest still inspires

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MANILA, June 1, 2014 — While many demoralizing challenges confront the modern religious, a clergy remembered the story a 17th century Japanese priest who braved the unforgiving seas and the heathen Japanese swords for his faith. The journey of Fr. Thomas of St. Augustine Jihyoe, a martyr for the faith, still remains relevant until today.

According to Convento San Agustin-Manila local prior Fray Peter Casiño, Jihyoe, a Japanese Augustinian priest who had strong ties with the Philippines, can inspire the modern priest “to rise above today’s challenges.”

Against a backdrop of persecutions of Christians in Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate, Jihyoe would bravely return to his homeland to work for the faith; he would eventually be tortured and martyred in 1637 because of his refusal to renounce Jesus.

Philippine ties

Recently beatified together with 187 other Japanese martyrs, Jihyoe was a teen when the Decree of Extinction was imposed during the Edo period in 1614, seeking the suppression of Christianity in the land.

Violent persecutions of converts followed years later and many Japanese were deported to Macau and the Philippines.

Crowds visit the San Agustin Church in Intramuros during Visita Iglesia 2014. The Japanese priest Thomas Jihyoe was here in the early 1600s. (Photo: Oliver Samson)

Jihyoe was first educated in Japan by Portuguese Jesuits, who taught him Latin and public speaking, Casiño said. He continued his studies in Macau and returned to Japan five years later to work as catechist and preacher.

In 1622, Jihyoe went to Manila and joined the Augustinians because of the “great admiration” he had for the order and the works it demonstrated in Japan, Casiño said. He was professed in Manila in 1624 and later ordained priest in Cebu.

Knowing Christians were being persecuted by unbelieving rulers back home, Jihyoe, returned to Nagasaki in 1631 to “take part in the sufferings of the faithful” and try what he could do to protect them from the persecutors, Casiño said.

But going back to Japan was not as easy as Jihyoe had predicted it, he said. His first attempt to sail back to Nagasaki was met by an unforgiving sea that smashed his ship. He would suffer two more shipwrecks before finally reaching Japanese shores.

Martyr for the faith

Back in Edo, the Japanese Augustinian kept his religious identity and evangelization work from the local rulers, Casiño said, and got employed as a sword-bearer and horse cleaner in Nagasaki using the name “Kintsuba”, while at the same doing his mission.

However, his ministry was disclosed to the shogunate in 1636, five years after he arrived home. Upon arrest, he told his captors “I am Father Thomas of St. Augustine Jihyoe.”

He was tortured for several months to force him to deny Christianity, Casiño said. On August 21, 1637, he was subjected to the torture of the pit, where he was hung upside down over a hole with 12 other men and women. .

On November 6, Jihyoe was hung again by the feet over the hole, he said. Refusing to relinquish Christianity, his head was buried into a rotting pile of garbage until he died. He was 35.

With the religion enjoying free expression today, the modern priest still has “an ocean and sword to brave to continue the mission,” Casiño said. (Oliver Samson)

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