Roman Catholic Missions — May 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Persecution 1867~1873, Part 1


Bernard Petitjean

It had been the custom of the Christians to avoid trouble by joining with others in making contributions to the temples, and by allowing deceased friends to be buried with Buddhist rites. Those in Urakami now resolved that, whatever might be the consequences, they would make no more girts to temples. In April, 1867, the relatives of a Christian who had died asked the missionaries what they ought to do about the funeral. The latter said that the Church, as the enemy of all superstition, disapproved of heathen ceremonies and advised that, without having recourse to the Buddhists, they give notice of the death to the officers of the village. Instead of following this advice, the relatives, as had been done in some cases, buried the body without saying anything to either officer or priest. These last brought the matter to the attention of the Mayor, who summoned the brother of the deceased person, reproved him for what he had done, and threatened to make him exhume the body in order to have it properly buried by the bonzes. The Christians made no reply, and the menace was not carried into effect. A few days later another death occurred. In this  case a notice was sent to the Mayor, who gave an order for burial by a Buddhist priest. The relatives declared that they would not accept the priest’s services, and the Christians of the different villages sent deputies to the Mayor saying that, while they were loyal subjects of the Government, they wished to have no dealings with the bonzes.
The Mayor advised them to present a petition asking to be freed from the necessity of doing what was opposed to their beliefs. Of eight hundred families living in Urakami Valley, seven hundred were included in the list of those asking this exemption. Four days later, there was another death, and to the surprise of the people the Governor then gave his authorization for funerals to be held without recourse to the Buddhists. The police officers simply took note of the failure to have the customary rites performed and said that the course to be pursued would be decided later. In other respects the Christians for a while enjoyed greater freedom.
This apparently favorable condition of affairs was but the calm preceding the outbreak of a storm. About three o’clock in the morning of July 15, M.Laucaigne, who was spending a few days in Urakami, was suddenly awakening by the master of the house where he was stopping, who called to him:
“They are coming to arrest us. Quick! We must flee.”
M.Laucaigne hastily dressed and barely escaped from one side of the garden as armed men entered at the other. The rain was falling in torrents as he made his way to the cabin of a poor old woman who lived on the edge of a forest. He had been there but a few moments when the approach of a band of officers made it necessary to flee. Hastening through the forest he came to a deep and thickly wooded valley where he remained several hours. When all seemed quiet he returned to the cabin. Another alarm drove him back to the forest, where he spent the night and then made his way to Nagasaki.
Sixty-four of the arrested persons, some of them being women, were taken to Nagasaki. Crowds watched them as they passed through the streets. The European residents were greatly stirred by the sight. The consuls of different countries uttered their protests. In an interview with the Governors, the French Consul said :
“It is not in the name of the treaties that I come before you; it is as a friend and in the name of humanity whose laws you violate. Europe will condemn your act. In her esteem you will descend to the rank of barbarous peoples, and your relations with her will suffer. It may even be that the foreign ministers residing in Yedo will oblige you to retrace your steps, a humiliation that can be avoided if you now of your own accord release the prisoners.”
A few days after the arrest, General Van Valkenburgh, the American Minister, came to Nagasaki. In a report to his government, he wrote :
“I at once asked an audience with the two Governors of Nagasaki, and on the twenty-ninth of July they visited me pursuant to my request. I expressed to them my regret at the occurrence and endeavored to induce them to release the poor prisoners. They declined, having arrested them as criminals under the laws of Japan upon complaint and proof, unless by direction from the Government.l They assured me, however, that they had not been tortured, and promised that the wants of those confined, as well as their families, should be provided for, and that no future arrests should be made until directions were received from the Goroju (Shogun’s Council).
A few days later an attempt was made to procure a general apostasy in Urakami. The Christians of the different villages were told to send delegates to receive an official communication. They accordingly chose persons for this purpose; but the Mayor, who feared that those selected might be too immovable, replaced them by others. on the appointed day the Governor of Nagasaki met these people. He urged them to take such action as would secure the release of their friends and put an end to the trouble. The first two delegates to whom he appealed were frightened into promising to do what was required. The next seven would not yield. Disconcerted by their firmness, the Governor told them to put their statements into writing so as to send them to him in a few days. he then said it was necessary for him to return to Nagsaki where the prisoners were being examined. His place was not taken by a subordinate, before whom came the delegates that had been originally chosen by the villagers. They bore a petition that they asked him to present to the Governor. After he had examined it, the officer said :
“This of itself is sufficient to ruin you, for in it you have used the word ‘Christian’ a name which the Government does not permit.”
Throughout the interview the officials themselves had always taken care not to use that word, but had replaced it by such terms as “the French religion” “the foreign religion”, “the religion of the Lord of Heaven”, e.t.c.
On September 16, twenty-eight of the Christians in Urakami were called to the house of the Mayor, that they might be questioned separately by the Buddhist priests.
“Why”, was the question put to one of them, “do you follow the religion of the foreign priests? Cannot you save your soul well enough through Buddhism, which likewise teaches above heaven and hell? We also adore one supreme being – Amida. It is only because you are not acquainted with our teaching that you reject it.”
“No,” was the reply, “it is because we are Christians and wish nothing to do with Amida.”
“But what you believe is really the same as what we hold to be true. Tell me what your belief is.”
The Christians repeated the Apostles’ Creed, strongly emphasizing the article, “I believe in the life everlasting.”
“That is a beautiful doctrine. You can follow it without calling yourselves Christians and thus doing what is forbidden by the laws of the land. Do not the commands of the Lord of Heaven require obedience to parents? Why then do you disobey the rulers, who are the fathers and mothers of the people?”
“We are quite willing to obey the rulers, but no to accept the doctrine of Amida,” persisted the Christian.
Soon after this Mgr. Petijean received from M.Roches, the French Minister, a note that contained the following passage :
“You will today receive an official letter, an authentic copy of which I have transmitted to the Japanese Government. It is only in consequence of receiving this document that it has consented to set the prisoners at liberty without demanding from them any act that could be regarded as an abjuration. I ought to add that it was not without great difficulty that I secured this solution of the problem. The daimyos, who, we have been told, are little favorable to the spread of Christianity, and who are perfectly well informed concerning all that has occurred at Nagasaki, have all sent protests to the Shogun against the present state of affairs. They expressed the opinion that the Shogun’s Government had given tacit assent the their views, and they added that they were determined to resort to the most energetic methods for causing the fundamental laws of Japan to be respected. They declared that they had given stringent orders for the beheading of any European priest of Japanese Christian that might dare to enter their territories. These letters of the daimyos are by no means a pretext invented by the Japanese Government to cover the present necessity; I have read them and have been able to verify for myself their authority.”
The official letter to which the personal note refers was likewise addressed to Mgr. Petitjean. It informed him that the Japanese Government had consented to pardon the persons arrested at Nagasaki who had violated the laws of the country by professing an unauthorized religion. “I ought to add,” continued the Minister, “that, if the Shogun forgives the past, he understands that in the future the Japanese will observe the laws of the Empire. I therefore hope that as regards your Catholic Mission you will avoid every act that has for its purpose the encouragement of Japanese subjects who profess the Christian religion in continuing their resistance to the authorities under whom the laws of Japan place them.”
The prisoners were brought, October 5, before the Governor, who informed them that they could be set at liberty only on condition of their signing a document which admitted that they had been following a religion not sanctioned by the Government. Some of them consented, and after three days ten of the leaders of the Christians, who had been subjected to torture, yielded, and said to their companions :
“We have submitted; and if we, who are men, have done so, what can you women and children do? It is impossible for you to hold out. It is better to surrender at once rather than to suffer torture so uselessly.”
This advice was so far followed that the paper was signed by all of the prisoners with the exception of Dominic Zenemon, who still stood firm. Twice he was tortured; but each time he came forth victorious from the test. No less than seven times was he brought before the Governor or his delegates.
“How have you been instructed?” he was asked.
“At first I went like the other to visit the church. There, I saw the priest praying and I asked him to to teach me hi s doctrine.”
“Were you not aware that the laws of Japan forbid its people to follow the religion of foreigners?”
“I did know it; but I thought the Emperor ought to permit us to follow this religion, for its doctrines are good, and it teaches nothing but what is right. Urakami has become much better since it has learned the Christian doctrines. Its people do not quarrel, nor drink; they busy themselves with taking care of the sick or with labor in the fields, which are more productive than ever before. It is asserted that Christians practice sorcery and perform miracles. This is a mistake. Sorcery is the work of devils; and if we could work miracles, we should have come out of the prison in spite of you.”
“This religion may be good; but by following it you have broken the law and so done wrong.”
“No, I have not done wrong; for God, who teaches men this religion, is my first Father and my first Mother. As for the law, if I have violated it, let the offense be washed out by my blood. I give up my body to satisfy the law; but I wish to save my soul.”
Notwithstanding his steadfastness, Dominic was soon set at liberty. On his return to Urakami his house was crowded with those that came to hear from his own lips the story of the trials through which he had passed. Those who had not been so brave were ashamed of their weakness. Already, on the day of the deliverance from prison, thirty-eight persons  had gone to the Governor’s house saying :”Our apostasy was only in words and not from the heart. We were overcome by fear of torture. To atone for our crime we are ready to go back to our chains, to suffer, and to die.” A few days later, ten others wished to follow their example; but the official of their district refused to bring them before the Governor.
Wiki Links:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *