Blessed Francisco de Jesús: Fidelity until
Death (Ablaze in Love’s Embrace)
By Enrique A. Eguiarte, OAR
Although Blessed Vicente de San Antonio and Blessed Francisco de Jesús landed in Japan together, they had to carry out their evangelization tasks separately. In the first place, Blessed Francisco de Jesús was Spanish and since 1623 Spanish merchants had been expelled from Japanese territory. In the second place, for security reasons, the persecution against Christians and especially against religious and priests had become more ruthless than ever every moment. So while Blessed Vicente de San Antonio remained in the protection of his fellow Portuguese nationals, Blessed Francisco had to go tto the mountains of Nagasaki to ensconce himself, and there in the meantime he studied Japanese and attended spiritually to the faithful.
Yet the persecution did not scare Blessed Francisco de Jesús at all, for he was already accustomed to living in perilous situations during the two years he was assigned in Zambales in the Philippines (1620-1622). It was a region where the natives had commited violent acts against the Recollect missionaries, and some even suffered martyrdom in that region year before.
After exercising his missionary work for three years in the mountains of Nagasaki and when he left the loop closing in on him, he decided to head towards north Japan with other religious. Thus, in April 1626, he left for that remote region, separating himself from his confrere Blessed Vicente de San Antonio by more than 2,000 kilometers away.
Such separation and farewell by Blessed Vicente reminded Blessed Francisco de jesús that his life had been marked by farewells. So he recalled that his mother had passed away in 1592 in his hometown of Villamediana in the Spanish province of Palencia when he was only two years old. Later on, his father died when he was six. His education had been entrusted to his two uncles who were clergymen, with whom he lived from age seven to fourteen. He would also bid farewell to the Jesuits there when he turned seven years old. And once more he bade goodbye to them when at age twenty-two he went to Valladolid to study. In Valladolid , impressed by the austere and withdrawn life of the Augustinian Recollects, he bade farewell to the world and all its glories and entered the convent of the Recollects in Valladolid, known today as the “sidewalk of the Recollects,’’ when he professed the monastic vows until death as Augustinian Recollect in 1615 at age twenty-five.
And so, on northern Japan, in spite of the abundant fruits harvested by him, Blessed Francisco de Jesús was able to remain there for only a year more or less, and after bidding adieu to the faithful he could return to Nagasaki area, as he was summoned by his confrere Blessed Vicente de San Antonio and for “many other reasons’’ he himself had indicated in one of his letters. When Blessed Francisco retraced his steps to that region, once more he left the unrelenting and cruel persecution. In one occasion, he untangled himself from the claws of his persecutors by wearing a woman’s clothes and fleeing swiftly. This flight which was not bereft of humorous touch reminded Blessed Francisco of his sojourn of barely a year at the University of Salamanca in 1619. There he witnessed the ingenuity of the students, and there he also heard the call of God to go to the missions in the Philippines. He had never imagined that his superior’s order and the will of God would take him to the remote lands of Japan. How they helped him sharpen his ingenuity!
And in Nagasaki in spite of the ruthless persecution, he went on with his evangelization tasks without respite; never staying more for than two days in one place, constantly changing residence and always seeking a safe place to hide. His example and love of Jesus Christ penetrated the deepest recesses of the hearts of many Japanese. These Japanese natives, moved by the example of their father and teacher, Blessed Francisco de Jesús, would likewise become martyrs, giving firm witness of their Faith, much like the catechist and Augustinian Recollect tertiary, Saint Magdalene of Nagasaki who was an active collaborator of Blessed Francisco de Jesús in the apostolic sallies in the mountains region of Nagasaki. The young tertiary would continue her evangelization tasks after the martyrdom of Blessed Francisco missionary was preaching.
In the prison of Nagasaki, he met the Augustinian Bartolomé Guitiérrez, an evangelizer of long residence in Japan, who had welcomed them to that country six years before. Not very long afterward, his Augustinian Recollect confrere Blessed Vicente de San Antonio was also dragged into prison. A Jesuit Antonio Ygida and a Franciscan Fray Gabriel would likewise join them in jail, and later in martyrdom.
At the Nagasaki jail they were incarcerated for only two weeks, since on 11 December 1629 they were transferred to the terrible and unsanitary omura prison where they were kept in confinement for nearly two years in small wooden cages, even as they encourage the faithful found in the same prison not to get disheartened along the path to martyrdom.
In 1631, they were taken back to Nagasaki, and thence to the terrible hell of arima where they were subject to the painful torture of sulphurous waters in order to force them to renounce the faith. His Augustinian recollect confrere, blessed Vicente de San Antonio, was half-dead on account of the five sessions of sulphurous waters poured upon him. But the tortures did not subject Father Bartolomé Gutiérrez to sulphurous water treatment anymore because his physical condition was deplorable and they were afraid he would die soon. Nevertheless, the jailors subjected Blessed Francisco de Jesús to seven drenching session in the dreadful sulphurous waters when they saw that he was a robust person and steadfastly confessed the Christian truth before the authorities. The tortures lest behind ineffaceable sores and open wounds all over his body, as a presage of what would finally be his martyrdom.
Apparently, the only relic that was preserved from Blessed Francisco de Jesús was a handkerchief soaked with blood caused by those open wounds. A Dominican religious had kept the handkerchief and dispatched it to the Recollect prior provincial in Manila. Certainly, this last relic of Blessed Francisco de Jesús would be lost for posterity like so many other relics of countless Japanese martyrs that were sent to Manila, to the iconic Saint Nicholas Church in Intramuros, which would be completely devastated during the Second World War many centuries after.
In the wake of these tortures, the religious were transported back to Nagasaki in early 1632, after spending thirty-one days in the “hell’’ of Arima. In Nagasaki they still remained for nine months in jail, undergoing the appalling pains of those open wounds from the “Unzen,’’ from that hell of Arima, living on a harsh diet and waiting the day of their martyrdom.
Thus, on 3 September 1632, they were taken to what was known as “Hill of Martyrs.’’ While they were going up to the hill which rose in front of the bay of Nagasaki, Blessed Francisco de Jesús reminisced the day when they embarked on the galleon of China at Acapulco, Mexico, and he was impressed by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Now he could its expanse from those heights. He reminisced that in the last ten years of his life he had traversed thousands of nautical miles through that turbulent ocean and he thought that finally the ship of his life would at last reach the desired port, the Kingdom of Heaven. All the rest had only been a tale and mere preparation for the real thing. Now the decisive moment had come. That was why he knelt down and kissed the wood where they would be bound, giving thanks God for the gift of martyrdom and for considering him worthy of the supreme witness o the Faith.
Their executioners, although impressed by the courage and fortitude of the martyrs, followed the command issued by the governor of Nagasaki. They bound the missionaries to the posts by their thumbs so that if in the midst of torture they would apostasize they code be set free without much obstacle. Apparently, the governor had not known yet the religious very well. The love of God that filled their lives was stronger than death, and even if they had to die a thousand deaths for Jesus Christ, they would still undergo the torture but never would they renounce the Faith. And so, once the executioners had soaked the wood in water which surrounded the martyrs, they had set ablaze with torch, beginning with blessed Bartolomé Gutiérrez , and ending with Blessed Vicente de San Antonio. While they still had the strength and the thick fumes had not asphyxiated them yet, the martyrs sang hymns, praised God and invited the Christians who were watching them from a distance to be faithful to their death.
After their death the bodies of the martyrs were reduced to ashes that were cast to the sea. In Villamediana, birthplace of Blessed Francisco de Jesus, a beautiful painting is preserved in the parish church that shows him with open arms and his wrists bound to the branches of a tree and at his feet the fire whose smoke was to suffocate him.
Blessed Francisco de jesús was beatified on 7 July 1867 by Pope Pius IX. His festivity is celebrated on 28 September together with the other Martyrs of japan of the Augustinian Family.
Blessed Francisco de Jesus was born in Villamediana ( Palencia, Spain) in May 1590 and received the waters of baptism on 2 june of that year. His parents were Pedro Terrero and Maria Perez. After the death of his parents he was educated by his two uncles who were clergymen and with whom he lived from 1597 to 1604. In 1607, he studied at the Jesuit school in Palencia. In 1612, he went to Valladoid and in 1614 he entered the convent of the Augustinian Recollects where he professed the monastic vows on 11 November 1615. Towards the end of 1616, he was assigned to the community of Nava del Rey in Valladolid to finish his studies. In 1618, he was ordained as priest in Vallaloid . Later on, he was sent to Salamanca for further studies.
However, he volunteered a year after for the missions in the Philippines. He embarked at Cadiz on 24 June 1619 . After he passed by Mexico and traversed the country on foot from coast to coast, he embarked at Acapulco in the galleon of China on 9 April 1620. He reached Manila on 16 August 1620.
In September 1620- 2 September 1622, he was assigned to Zambales in Western Luzon. On 21 October 1622, he was named vice prior of Saint Nicholas Convent in Intramuros, Manila. On 28 April 1623, he embarked for Japan where he arrived on 20 June 1623. On 11 October 1623, he reached Nagasaki. In April 1626, he headed for northern Japan with the religious from other orders. In the summer or autumn of 1628, he returned to the region of Nagasaki. On 18 November, 1629 , he was arrested in the mountains of Nagasaki and taken to prison where he was detained for about two years. ON 11 December 1629, he was taken to the prison in Omura. On 26 November 1631, he was transferred to “The Hell” (Unzen) in Arima where he would stay for 31 days. On 5 January 1631, he returned to Nagasaki Prison. On 3 September 1632, he suffered martyrdom. He was beatified on 7 July 1867 by Pope Pius IX.