“It is the little ones who heal us,” said Father Leonard, completely out of the blue. I had been confessing some now-forgotten sin when out came this treasure from the store-room of his heart.
It came to me some days later that the face of God must have something in it of the face of a child. This would explain why Jesus said, “In heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 18:10) That is, the faces of the angels’ appointed little ones, untainted as yet by actual sin, are so many little faces of God, so much like the face of the Infant Jesus.
When the Pharisees asked the adult Jesus why He hung around with the likes of us, He answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:31) Our spiritual forefathers understood the preciousness of each human life, and thus the infinite value of healing. How appalled they would have been to breathe the putrid ambience of our brave new world where slithery phrases like ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘women’s reproductive rights’ mean the wholesale murdering of babies in their mothers’ wombs, and—horror unspeakable—the slaughtering of babies while they are being born, and even after having emerged alive into our world: murdered by the very ‘physicians’ who should be delivering those newborn healers into their mothers’ loving arms. How infuriated our forebears would have been by the hissing sound of those three slithery words—‘Freedom of Choice’—that deny both freedom and choice to the little boys and girls being butchered by so-called physicians. And how it must wrench the guardian angels to see their own tiny, Godlike charges torn out of the womb with steel pincers piece by piece, limb by limb, tiny hands and feet and torso, and, most wrenching of all, the tiny bleeding head with its tortured face of God frozen in eternal agony. How bitterly the guardians must weep to see us slaughter their helpless little ones, those tiny healers, as if infanticide really were the merest expression of ‘women’s reproductive rights’ or, God save us, ‘women’s health.’
If only we could hear the angels gasp, or feel the rain of tears they shower over every butchered child; but perhaps we are too far gone, too ‘experienced,’ too hardened of heart: perhaps our calluses are long since grown too thick for us to hear or feel such holy pain. We are so desperately in need of love, of innocence, of healing.
How very sick indeed our world will be when we have finally slaughtered all the little ones.
27 December 1613: Orders Arrive to Register all Christians
Two days after Christmas of 1613, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s orders arrived in Kyoto, Fushimi, Osaka and Sakai, the major population centers at the core of Honshu Island: lists were to be made of all Christians (i.e. Catholics), both foreign and Japanese, residing in those cities. This was the prelude to roundup and deportation, the order for which would arrive on 27 January.
The news of December 27, 1613 was but the merest subterranean rumble portending the eruption soon to come: an explosion of cold-blooded cruelty that would flood all Japan, leaving no Catholic at peace for the next two and three-quarters centuries.
Ieyasu had already banned the Faith in all shogunal domains, and his minion Hasegawa Sahioye had by this time piled up hills of Catholic corpses in Arima, long known as a Catholic refuge. This was only the beginning of Arima’s scourging, a trial by fire that would culminate 25 years later in the mass extermination of 37,000 Catholics at Hara-jō, a disused mountaintop fortress on the southeastern coast of the Shimabara Peninsula.
Nevertheless, displays of dauntless faith would abound amid the horrors to come: time and again, Japan’s Catholic faithful would prove the verity of Saint Francis Xavier’s words, written in Kagoshima in 1549, when he assessed the nation thus:
The people whom we have met so far, are the best who have as yet been discovered, and it seems to me that we shall never find among heathens another race to equal the Japanese.
Perhaps the saint, through some supernatural grace, foresaw the persecutions that so many of Japan’s faithful would endure to the end with superhuman courage. Perhaps, after his untimely death in 1552, he was praying to strengthen each tortured soul as he watched their ordeals from Heaven, doing his utmost to fill the Celestial Court with thousands of unequaled companions—who, having conquered death, can strengthen us who remain here below with their own powerful intercessory prayers.
Luke O’Hara, Kirishtan.com
 Charles Ralph Boxer, The Christian Century in Japan 1549-1650 (Lisbon: Carcanet, 1993) 401.
On 8 December 1603, two Catholic samurai of Yatsushiro were beheaded for refusing to renounce Christ, and the following day all the remaining members of their immediate families were crucified for clinging to their convictions too. The youngest of these martyrs was seven-year-old Ludovico (his baptismal name).
On his mother’s instructions, this child-martyr kept repeating the holy names of the Lord and the Blessed Virgin— Iézusu! Maria! —as he hung on his cross awaiting the spear-thrust that would pierce his heart, gouging into him through his right kidney and out through his left shoulder. His mother was hanging on the cross next to his own.
The little boy rode to Heaven on eagle’s wings; lifted, that is, by the Almighty Name. Imagine that family reunion, once all had arrived at their eternal Home.
December 8, 1941: a day that has lived in infamy for 78 years.
What? December 8th?
Americans remember Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December, but it was December 8th in Japan when the Japanese Imperial Navy’s dive bombers hit our bases in Hawaii. December 8th also marks the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin in the Roman Catholic Church.
Mere coincidence, one might imagine, but here’s another “coincidence”: the Emperor’s surrender proclamation was broadcast to his astonished nation on August 15, 1945. The 15th of August marks the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which pegs the end of the earthly life of the Lord’s mother, who was soon to return to earth time and again to dazzle the wondering, upturn’d eyes of mortals in the form of countless apparitions warning mankind to believe in her Son’s reality and the direness of man’s addiction to sin, lest countless souls needlessly consign themselves to eternal fire—the pool of fire that is the second death. (See Revelation 20:14-15)
So the front and back covers of that Book of Death that mankind knows as the Pacific War coincide with the conception of the Blessed Virgin (for conception is the start of full-fledged human life) and her departure from earthly life—which, for those who cling to Christ, is only the beginning of eternal bliss. But all this must be merest coincidence.
Just like the coincidence of Saint Francis Xavier’s arrival in Japan by dint of an irresistible wind that drove his ship straight to Kagoshima, the home town of his Japanese interpreter, an escapee from Japan who was now a convert to the Faith. The ship’s captain had been determined to avoid Japan, but that almighty wind had had its way, and now there was nothing to do but land his passengers.
And the date? By the merest coincidence, the 15th of August 1549, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin: the birth of Christendom in Japan.
Given the whirlwind of troubles afflicting the Church today—the worship of pagan idols at the Amazon Synod, the ongoing cover-up of clerical sex crimes, the theft of half a billion dollars from Peter’s Pence—some of the faithful might be tempted to throw up their hands, drop all pretense of being truly Catholic, and join the gulled masses on their merry ride to hell. Thank God we have the witness of the martyrs.
In the final week of November 2019, Pope Francis was treading soil baptized with Catholic blood in one of history’s cruelest persecutions. While visiting Tokyo, Hiroshima, and especially Nagasaki, our first Jesuit pope likely recalled Saint Francis Xavier, whose pioneering mission brought Christ to Japan on the Feast of the Assumption in 1549. Hopefully, the modern Francis also contemplated the agonies and privations that his forebears lived and breathed in the centuries of that great darkness.
When that first Jesuit mission reached Japan, St. Francis Xavier and his two Jesuit companions found the country in a state of civil war. It was thus providential that they landed in Kagoshima, whose powerful lord gave them safe haven where they could learn about the Japanese and plant the Gospel seeds that would root in countless Japanese hearts. St. Francis Xavier reported:
The people whom we have met so far, are the best who have as yet been discovered, and it seems to me that we shall never find among heathens another race to equal the Japanese. … They are a people of very good will, very sociable, and very desirous of knowledge; they are very fond of hearing about things of God.
After trekking much of Japan, the saint departed in November 1551, leaving his two Jesuit companions behind to carry on the superhuman task ahead. He would fall ill on November 20, 1552 and die twelve days later on an island south of China, carrying to Heaven his unfulfilled dream of getting into that closed country, converting its emperor, and returning to Japan to do the same.
Yet the seeds he had planted did thrive, so much so that the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, whose power grew to compass all Japan, became jealous of the priests of that religion that had stolen the hearts of tens of thousands of his people. In 1587, Hideyoshi banned the Faith; a decade later, to drive in his point, he crucified 26 Catholic men and boys on a slope called Nishi-zaka overlooking Nagasaki Bay. His death in 1598 gave the Church a needed respite.
And yet short-lived. In 1614 a new persecution shook Japan. The Tokugawa shoguns who succeeded Hideyoshi made the very life and breath of every human being in Japan contingent on his willingness to spurn the Catholic Faith and betray all known believers to the murderous regime.
But some preferred a holy death in public view to hell and dishonor. One such fearless believer was yet another Jesuit, a humble lay brother named Leonardo Kimura.
In November of 1619, Brother Leonardo was confined in Nagasaki’s jail, where he had spent three grueling years. Japanese prisons of this period were deathly hellholes, their prisoners crammed like sardines into dark, dank, unvented wooden cages whose dirt floors bred vermin while the air stunk beyond description. Disease and infestation were rampant, and many died, their bodies sometimes left in place for days on end until official permission could be gotten by the guards to remove them.
However, neither dankness nor lice nor stench nor filth nor inhuman cramping nor lethal illness was sufficient to deter Brother Kimura from saving souls. Within the confines of his pestilential earthly hell, he lived a holy life along with three fellow-prisoners in his spiritual charge. Their regimen is documented in François Solier’s Histoire:
They started every day with an hour of silent prayer; next they prayed the Litany of the Saints aloud followed by other prayers, a second hour. They did spiritual reading until mealtime, after which each applied himself to some edifying activity. Evenings, another hour of prayer. All fasted at least three days a week, during which they also scourged themselves. They prayed five hours on Fridays in honor of the Five Wounds of Christ. Every month they did the Forty Hours devotion to bring Heaven’s help to the persecuted Christians and the preachers of the Gospel.
Eventually the warden, seeing that this Jesuit had turned his jail into a house of prayer, moved him to a separate cell whose ceiling was so low that he couldn’t raise his head while squatting on the floor; still he evangelized. By the time they led Leonardo out of prison to meet his death, he had 86 baptisms under his belt, numbering both prisoners and guards.
Yet, in dying, he proclaimed Christ more boldly than ever. While being marched toward a death-cage at the edge of Nagasaki Bay along with four other faithful believers, this indomitable Jesuit proclaimed the Gospel at the top of his lungs to the thousands lining the roadside, watching from boats offshore, and blanketing the mountainside opposite the bay: a message of hope for all the truth-starved ears of benighted Catholic Nagasaki.
But this was only the prologue.
The five were tied to stakes; the wood was lit; a cloud of smoke enveloped the martyrs—and then a marvel. The smoke cleared to reveal Leonardo wrapped in flames,his face exuding joy, waiting forhis ropes to burn away. Then, freed of his stake, hebent to earth, took up two burning embers in his hands, and held them aloft “as if they were heavenly jewels,”singing Laudate dominum omnes gentes.
Nagasaki’s thousands, astonished, “made the air ring with the sacred names of Jesus and Mary” while a children’s choir began singing praises from a boat offshore.
The martyrs’ bones and ashes would be chopped to bits, bagged up and sunk into the deep as if to wipe the dazzling truth from history, a futile stab at the invincible. For history cannot forget.
Perhaps, back in Rome, Pope Francis will reflect on that dazzling truth, having looked out on that water from atop Nishi-zaka, better known as Martyrs’ Hill—where so many faithful Jesuits shed their lives.
Luke O’Hara became a Roman Catholic in Japan. His articles and books about Japan’s martyrs can be found at his website, kirishtan.com.
 Charles Ralph Boxer, The Christian Century in Japan 1549-1650 (Lisbon: Carcanet, 1993) 401.
In the Year of Our Lord 1616, a young samurai named Hoshino Kanzō returned to Fukushima Masanori’s castle-town of Hiroshima after some years’ absence to care for his father, who was mortally ill. The young man’s return must have been bittersweet, since his father, egged on by his Jezebel of a stepmother, had thrown him out of his home years earlier over his devotion to Christ. Perhaps his very baptismal name, Domingo, set her teeth on edge.
On his eviction, Domingo Hoshinohad made his way to Nagasaki to seek spiritual help from the Portuguese Jesuit priest who had baptized him, Fr. Mattheus de Couros, and afterwards traveled to the island of Shikoku, where he found work as a samurai in the service of a prominent daimyō. When the Tokugawa persecution of 1614 extended its tentacles to Shikoku, however, Domingo was given the choice of abandoning either his faith or his living. Of course, he chose the latter. This made him not only a rōnin—a wandering samurai without a master, and thus perhaps considered a dangerous tramp—but also a Kirish’tan rōnin, perhaps treated as anathema by all and sundry.
Thus, on his return to Hiroshima, Domingo was longing for rest, for a home, and for a chance to repair the filial ties that his stepmother had sundered by dint of her malign influence over the old man—who now lay on his deathbed, shorn of any strength to resist his wife’s predations. It must have wrung his heart to see his eldest son’s face again after those years of absence. Certainly Domingo’s heart, too, would have stung on seeing his father near death, still neither baptized nor converted. Domingo did the little he could to nurse his father’s body back to health, but all his efforts to save his soul were frantically resisted by his Jezebel stepmother until the old man was dead.
One can imagine the desolation that must have followed fast upon the spent anguish in the heart of the dead man’s returned discarded son. His father’s apparently unrepentant death was not the final blow, however: as if not yet having injected enough venom into her despised stepson’s life and soul, that wanton shade of a mother snatched away Domingo’s inheritance, grabbing legal title over the family home. She was determined to make him a Kirish’tan outcast again.
No doubt these facts steeled Domingo’s certainty of the justice of his cause when he marched to Fukushima Masanori’s castle on 26 November 1616 to petition for redress of the theft of his inheritance. He was probably thinking not only of himself, but also of his younger brother, who would be solely under that Jezebel’s malevolent influence in his forced absence. His younger brother’s soul was in jeopardy just as his father’s had been.
Masanori’s castle stood on a rise in Hiroshima armored with massive masonry on all sides, surrounded by a moat, and planted with pretty groves of pine trees. Perhaps it reminded Domingo of his days of samurai service in Shikoku; perhaps he felt readmitted to the human race for a space of moments as he climbed the stone steps into the castle keep for an audience with the daimyō himself. That changed abruptly, though, when one of Masanori’s samurai, an ally of the stepmother’s in her rotten scheme, stood up to denounce Domingo as an incompetent, a coward, a madman, and above all an accursed Christian who had long before been thrown out of the family home for having defied his father’s orders to quit that banned religion—and would he now come storming back to Hiroshima to demand that home for his own?
Since the accuser had publicly denounced the petitioning Domingo as a flagrant violator of the shogun’s prohibition against practicing the Christian Faith, Masanori was forced to act enraged at the ‘discovery’ of the young man’s Catholicism. (This daimyō had in fact been sympathetic to Christianity before the shogun forced him to execute a crackdown; he may well have long known about the young man’s conversion.) He asked if it were true that he was a Christian and that he had indeed defied his father’s orders to renounce Christ; Domingo answered Yes.
Masanori then ordered him to commit suicide by hara-kiri.
“I will gladly die or suffer any torture you give me for the sake of Christ,” Domingo answered, “but I cannot commit suicide, for it is against our [Christian] law, as all know.”
This Masanori acknowledged. He then declared that, since Christians so esteemed the Cross, there was one obvious solution: “Crucify him!”
With his hands tied behind his back and a noose around his neck—gross ignominy for a samurai—Domingo was led out of the castle grounds by a cordon of soldiers. The man at the head of the procession held a sign proclaiming Fukushima Masanori’s sentence of death:
I order this man executed for having become a Christian against the law of the Lord of the Tenka (i.e. the Empire) and for having refused to renounce his religion in defiance of his parents…
It concluded with the charge that Domingo, having gone to Nagasaki to become a Christian, had thereafter returned to Hiroshima. Domingo had actually received baptism in Hiroshima at the hands of Fr. de Couros some years before the 1614 ban. That final charge in the death-sentence was obviously a ploy to absolve Masanori and his domains, far removed from Catholic Nagasaki, of any taint of Christian sympathies.
The condemned Catholic thanked God all the way to the execution ground, where a cross had been prepared, awaiting him. He reverenced the cross, said a prayer, embraced it, and passively allowed his executioners to tie his arms and legs to the wood (Japanese crucifiers did not nail their victims to the cross) and fasten his neck to the upright with an iron clamp. Then he was lifted up.
He began to preach of the truth of the Faith to all within earshot, insisting that they deceive themselves who hold that there is any salvation outside of Christ. Domingo Hoshino ended his sermon with the names of Jesus and Mary, shouted as the spearmen standing at the foot of his cross drove their spears into his flanks, up through his heart, and out the shoulders. This is how Japanese crucifixions culminated.
On Masanori’s orders, Domingo’s body was left to rot eight days on the cross as a terror to any who would dare to worship Christ in his domains. Rather than prove a deterrent, though, the corpse of the crucified Christian became a holy shrine, drawing a steady stream of Catholics come to do the faithful martyr reverence—and, if possible, scoop up some of that sacred earth baptized with his blood.
After that octave of would-be terror, the local Catholics took away Domingo Hoshino’s body for proper burial. He was the first Catholic martyred in Hiroshima and the first in all Japan crucified under the Tokugawa persecution, a samurai of 23 or 24 years of age, faithful unto death to his Lord above.
1. Pedro Morejón, Historia y Relacion de lo sucedido en los Reinos de Japon y China, en la qual se continua la gran persecucion que ha avido en aq̃lla Iglesia, desde el año de 615. hasta el de 19. Por el Padre Pedro Morejon de la Compañia de Iesus, Procurador de la Prouincia de Iapon, natural de Medina del Campo. (Lisboa: Rodriguez, 1621) 76-77.