Ōmura Sumitada, Champion of the Faith


            June 23, 1587 is a noteworthy date in human history, for it marks the death of Ōmura Sumitada (above), the first Japanese daimyō received into Holy Mother Church.  To his dying breath he was a champion of the Faith: a staunch warrior for Christ and a selfless donor of land and fortune to the Kingdom of Heaven.  He donated the port of Nagasaki to the Church—soon to become Japan’s window to the world—and the port-town of Mogi, too, which faced the Shimabara Peninsula and still connects by ferry to the isles of Amakusa.  Amakusa: the home of Amakusa Shiro, the seedbed of the Shimabara Rebellion and a longtime haven for Christian refugees from tyrants’ persecution.  But let us return to Ōmura.

            Ōmura, the sizeable domain ruled by Sumitada, was home to two ports suitable for hosting visits by the great sailing-ships of Portugal:  Nagasaki and Yokose-ura.  Overcome by the power of the truth of the Gospel, Sumitada offered the port of Yokose-ura to the missionaries of Christ as a home where they could live freely and preach their Gospel and convert whomever they could; to the Portuguese merchants who accompanied the missionaries he offered anchorage and trading-rights in Yokose-ura with the first decade tax-free.  As soon as he had been instructed in the basic tenets of the Christian faith, Sumitada declared that he was already a Christian in his heart.

          Sumitada, Lord of Ōmura, felt that, for familial considerations, he was not yet able to receive baptism—he feared that his elder brother Yoshisada, Lord of Arima, would object—but he nevertheless had a golden cross made for himself and wore it proudly and publicly on his chest.  He even wore it on a visit to Yoshisada in Arima.  One must here understand that the male head of the family held, for all practical purposes, dictatorial power—even the power of life and death—in old Japan.   Seeing the cross on his brother’s chest, Yoshisada asked if he were Christian, and on hearing Sumitada’s ‘Yes,’ the elder brother “grieved not, whence Ōmura-dono received great contentment and happiness.”[1]  Yoshisada himself would sometime thereafter receive baptism as Dom André and, until his death, champion the Faith in his own domain of Arima.

            Sumitada thereafter went to visit Padre Cosme de Torres in Yokose-ura, only to learn that he was away, as it was Holy Week, a time of sadness and retreat from worldliness.  He humbly asked (through Brother João Fernandes) for permission to build the Padre a retreat house behind the church at Yokose-ura, although he himself, Lord of Ōmura, had donated the land and paid for the construction.  He also requested leave to have Christian laws written on placards and, according to Japanese custom, set up on posts in public places, in order that the people who came to that port from diverse places might “live in union and peace.”[2]

[1] Luis Frois, Historia de Japam, Vol. 1, pp 278-279, my translation.

[2] Ibid, p. 279.