On March 21, 1643, a Christian hero whom we know only by the name of Thomas died in the pit on Nishi-zaka in Nagasaki. Born in Korea, he was a humble lay Catholic serving Catholic exiles at a Japanese church in Cambodia when he was chosen to accompany Father Antonio Rubino and his companions on a one-way self-sacrificial mission to Japan.
Like the brave Jesuit priests of Martin Scorcese’s Silence, Father Rubino offered his life up to God on a wildly reckless mission to sneak into Japan, find the apostate priest Christovao Ferreira, and convince him to recant his apostasy and die for the Faith—both to save his own soul and to repair the bad example he had set for the onlooking Japanese faithful by his apostasy.
Unlike the Jesuit-priest characters in Silence, however, the real historical Jesuit Antonio Rubino, along with all the other members of his mission, endured seven months of the “Unzen Hell” boiling sulfur-water torture pictured in that film; they did not give in. The Shogun’s deputy in Nagasaki then condemned the dauntless members of Father Rubino’s mission to the ultimate torture of the Pit. This test too would prove fruitless for the Shogun’s purpose: Father Rubino and his companions all gave their lives for Christ atop the slope called Nishi-zaka, that holy ground sanctified first by the blood of the Twenty-six Martyrs of Nagasaki on 5 February 1597.
Thomas, faithful lay Catholic, was the first to die, the first among the hardy souls of Father Rubino’s mission to give up his earthly life for the sake of his immortal soul—indeed, for all our immortal souls, whether watching from that slope overlooking Nagasaki Bay on the 21st of March in the Year of Our Lord 1643 or gaping through the lens of history, still transfixed by the sight of that fearless Peace that passeth all understanding.
Copyright 2017 by Luke O’Hara