23 March 1643: a Polish Jesuit dies in the Pit in Faithful Silence

Portrait of Father Albert Meczynski by an anonymous artist. Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons
Father Albert Meczynski, S.J. was born of Polish nobility, the Poraj of Kurozwęki; his father (who, as best I can determine, was the Count of Kurozwęki) died when Albert was a boy. Sent to study at the Jesuit college in Lublin at age fourteen, Albert soon embraced a desire to join the Society of Jesus. His mother, outraged, sent him to school in Krakow to deter this ambition she thought unfitting a nobleman; there he studied medicine, which would later come in handy.
       Despite parental opposition, Albert did eventually join the Society at Rome; he was ordained at Evora after years of study. Having repeatedly requested permission to go on mission to Japan, he finally set sail from Lisbon in 1631. An epidemic of typhus raged on board the ship, during which Father Albert rendered constant medical service; ultimately, contrary winds forced the ship to turn back to Lisbon. Thereafter Father Albert spent two years convalescing because of a circulatory ailment.
       He sailed again on 5 March 1633; on this voyage, too, the crew was plagued by mortal illness, but they finally arrived at Goa, India on 20 August. There Father Albert visited the tomb of Saint Francis Xavier, miracle worker and “Apostle of the Indies,” where he received an infusion of spiritual strength. Setting sail then for Malacca, Father Albert was captured by Dutch pirates, taken to their colony on Formosa and kept captive for seven months; here, too, his medical skills proved useful, as the Dutchmen, who had been starving him, began to treat him more humanely when he effected a cure for their commandant’s ailing son.
       Eventually he made it to Portuguese Macao, near Hong Kong; there he studied Japanese—and presumably prepared himself for martyrdom, for he had early on donated his entire fortune to the Society of Jesus with the words: “Now I have nothing but my blood to give to God.”[1]
         To make this ultimate donation, Father Albert joined Father Antonio Rubino’s bold atoning mission to Japan, which set sail from Manila in 1642. Its purpose was to repair the insult to the Christian Faith and to the Society of Jesus that Father Christovão Ferreira’s public apostasy after four hours’ torture in the Pit at Nagasaki had inflicted—and, if possible, to bring the apostate Ferreira back to Christ.
       As for the ultimate fate of Ferreira’s soul, only God knows, but the Name of Christ suffered no soiling at the hands of Father Rubino’s Jesuit missionaries: in the hands of the Shogun’s torturers they would withstand seven months’ torture being scalded with sulfur-water and branded with hot iron at the volcanic “Unzen Hell” without breathing a whisper of apostasy. Finally they would be condemned to the torture of the Pit, the very apex of contrived human cruelty. From his gallows atop Nishi-zaka in Nagasaki, Father Albert hung upside-down in a dark, stinking toilet of a hole with his waist crimped in a wooden vise and every nerve of his body in torment, enduring a man-made hell far worse than Unzen, giving his blood to God drop by drop, dripping from his ears and mouth and nose into the filth he had to breathe for seven days, seven eternities: atonement seventy times seven for Christovão Ferreira’s apostasy, a debt far more than mere mortal man should ever have to pay.
       Father Albert, holy immortal, entered Eternity on 23 March 1643.
Hallelujah. Glory be to God in all His angels and saints and martyrs.
Copyright 2017 by Luke O’Hara

[1] Menology of the Society of Jesus (Roehampton: St. Joseph’s Press, 1874) 88.

Father Antonio Rubino and the True Story behind Martin Scorcese’s “Silence”

       Humankind—as well as all creation—owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Father Antonio Rubino and his companions, fearless men of God who threw their very lives to the wind for the sake of Japan and its harried people, to give the Japanese an example intended to lead them to freedom in aeternam.  They had set out for Japan in 1642 from Manila in a ship secretly prepared for them by the Governor of the Philippines; they had traveled disguised as Chinese; but they died as public spectacles, proudly and fearlessly proclaiming the saving truth of Christ, the Faith they had come to die for.

         In October of 1633, the acting Provincial of the Jesuit Province of Japan had apostatized under the most extreme torture and was reputed to be acting as an agent of the Shogun in effecting the apostasies of other missionaries caught by the Japanese authorities. This man, Christovão Ferreira, was indeed acting as interpreter and translator for the Shogun’s men, but there seems to be no evidence that he in fact urged the captives to apostatize; rather, he did his translating work in shame. Nevertheless, his public example of renouncing Christ was a scandal that could lead the whole Japanese nation to perdition, and Father Rubino vowed to offer himself up as a shining counter-example of faithfulness to Christ unto death, a torch of truth to dazzle the eyes and firm the wills of all Japan’s Christians:  he and his companions would sail to Japan, enter the country by stealth, and try to bring Ferreira back to life—eternal life, that is—or atone for his apostasy by dying as heroic martyrs themselves.

         Giovanni Antonio Rubino was born in Turin in 1578, thirty-one years after Saint Francis Xavier’s pioneering mission to Japan to spread the Word and save yet another race of man. Of noble birth, Father Rubino determined in his youth to devote his life to Christ by joining holy orders. Overcoming his father’s opposition, he joined the Society of Jesus and was sent to Goa in the Portuguese Indies. The consummate scholar, he served the Church in Asia for some forty years at Goa, Cochin, and Colombo as teacher or principal at those cities’ Jesuit academies.

         This man, this faithful scholar-priest, is a towering unsung giant of Christian history, a real-life version of the tortured priests in Martin Scorcese’s Silence: a giant because, unlike the fictional priest in that movie who decided to tread on an image of Christ and thus wordlessly proclaim his apostasy, Father Antonio Rubino held out for the heavenly crown of glory—held out to the end, which came on 22 March 1643, when he finally expired hanging in the Pit atop the slope called Nishi-zaka in Nagasaki, Japan’s capital city of martyrs.

         Father Rubino and his mission companions—four priests, one brother, and three lay Catholics—sailed out of Manila disguised as Chinese; on 11 August 1642 their ship ran aground on a small island in the Satsuma Strait: they had reached Japan. Within three days they were discovered, arrested, and taken to Nagasaki. There they were interviewed by the Nagasaki Bugyo, the Shogun’s deputy; the apostate priest Christovão Ferreira served as the Bugyo’s interpreter, but slunk out in shame after having been harshly scolded by Father Rubino for his faithlessness.

         The Bugyo sent Father Rubino’s party to Mount Unzen, where they would endure the boiling sulfur-water tortures of “Unzen Hell” for seven months; the torturers also burned them with rods of red-hot iron. The final torture session on Unzen, especially gruelling, they suffered on 16 March 1643. None apostatized.



Boiling sulfurous springs atop Mount Unzen

           The men of Father Rubino’s party were given their death-sentence, torture to death in the Pit, on 18 March: they rejoiced at the news, thanking God. The Bugyo, mystified, asked if they understood what he had told them; they replied that they had understood the Japanese perfectly: this was why they had come—to testify to the truth of Christ with their own precious lives, lives they held worthless if not spent for the Faith.

         They were paraded through the streets of Nagasaki as spectacles of shame: riding on pack-horses with hands tied behind their backs; their heads and beards half-shaven, the shaven half painted red; iron “tongues” in their mouths to clamp their tongues and keep them from speaking; and signs on their backs proclaiming their crime:

         The Emperor of Japan condemns these people to death for having preached the Roman Faith, long proscribed in all these domains.


         Atop the slope called Nishi-zaka, on the execution-ground overlooking Nagasaki Bay, Father Rubino and his companions were violently thrown from their horses and their bodies bound in tight coils of rope. Then each martyr was suspended from a gallows head-downward waist-deep into his appointed pit, whose bottom was filled with the vilest filth. A lid was closed around his waist, closing out fresh air, closing in the stench; the lid cut off his circulation, causing excruciating pain. To multiply the martyr’s agonies astronomically, the torturers twisted the rope from which he hung: back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, each turn an eternity of earthly hell.


2008-11g                                                  The Pit (an artist’s inaccurate conception)

      Yet no-one apostatized: all five men of Father Rubino’s mission held out for the Christian crown of glory, and thus, in their dauntless silence, refuted the lie of apostasy, the vacuous notion that any temporary earthly suffering—no matter its present horror—is too high a price to pay for Eternal Life. 

         Father Antonio Rubino won the martyr’s crown on 22 March, 1643 at age 64 or 65, the second of his mission-group to gain that victory. The lifelong scholar and teacher had taught his life’s greatest lesson in silence, a silence blaring out its truth to all mankind like a startling angelic trumpet in the heavens.

Copyright 2017 by Luke O’Hara

Website:  Kirishtan.com


The Glorious Silence of Thomas, an Unsung Korean Christian Martyr

          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

Website:  Kirishtan.com