Blessed Apollinaris Franco and Companions
Feast Day – September 13
Soon after the glorious martyrdom of St Peter Baptist and his twenty-five companions at Nagasaki in 1597, numerous missionaries were able to return to Japan and for a time their work was crowned with extraordinary success. However, in 1613 a new persecution commenced, far worse than the first; and it lasted until 1638, when Japan adopted a policy of complete isolation. During this persecution some missionaries were able to hide themselves in the mountains and to continue their work in secret, at least for a time; and some new ones even managed to enter the country. Many of them, together with a large number of their converts, won the martyr’s crown.
No less than three hundred and fifty children of St Francis were put to death for the Faith; and of this number forty-five, who are known as Blessed Apollinaris and his companions, were declared blessed by Pope Pius IX on July 27, 1867. On the same occasion, one hundred and sixty other Japanese martyrs who died between 1617 and 1632 were beatified.
Of the forty-five Franciscan martyrs, seventeen belonged to the First Order, one was a member of the Third Order Regular, and twenty-seven were Tertiaries. Those of the First Order included twelve Franciscan missionaries from Europe and five Japanese Franciscans. Of these one was a bishop-elect, nine were priests, one a cleric, and six brothers. Father Apollinaris Franco was their superior. All the other martyrs were natives of Japan and Korea; and hence their total number was thirty-three.
Through it is not possible to study the life of each of these forty-five blessed martyrs on a separate day, we should at least become acquainted with them and learn their names and the day of their martyrdom.
The first of the twelve European Franciscans to become a martyr was Blessed Peter of the Assumption, who died May 22, 1617. He was followed the next year, on August 16, by Blessed John of St Martha. Three died on September 10, 1622, namely, Blessed Richard of St Anne, Blessed Peter of Avila, and Blessed Vincent of St Joseph, the latter a brother. Two days later, the superior, Blessed Apollinaris Franco won the martyr’s crown. Blessed Francis Galvez died on December 4, 1623; and the next year, on August 25, Blessed Louis Sotelo, bishop-elect of eastern Japan. Two died on August 17, 1627, namely Blessed Francis of St Mary and Blessed Bartholomew Laurel, the latter being a brother from Mexico. The following year, on September 8, Blessed Anthony of St Bonaventure joined their ranks. The last was another brother, Blessed Gabriel of St Magdalen, who died on September 3, 1632. Among the five Japanese Franciscans was a cleric, Blessed Francis of St Bonaventure, and a brother, Blessed Paul of St Clare, both of whom made their novitiate and their profession in prison and died on September 12, 1622. Blessed Louis Sasada, who was admitted into the order in Mexico and ordained a priest in Manila, laid down his life for the Faith on August 25, 1624. The other two were brothers who made their profession in prison, Blessed Anthony of St Francis, who died on August 17, 1627, and Blessed Dominic of St Francis, on September 8, 1628.
The martyr who was a member of the Third Order Regular of St Francis was the Japanese priest Blessed Jerome Torres of the Cross, who was put to death on September 3, 1632.
The first of the twenty-seven Japanese and Korean Tertiary martyre were eighty-year old Blessed Lucy Freites and the catechist Blessed Leo of Satsuma, whose death occurred on September 10, 1622. Blessed Louis Baba, the companion and servant of Bishop-elect Louis Sotelo, died on August 25, 1624. Eight Tertiaries became martyrs on August 17, 1627. Among them was Blessed Gaspar Vaz, a Korean, and his wife, Blessed Mary Vaz. Likewise Blessed Thomas O Jinemon, also a Korean. Another was Blessed Francis Kuhioye, who was baptized in prison. The others were Blessed Louis Matsuo Soemon, Blessed Luke Kiemon, Blessed Martin Gomez, and Blessed Michael Kizaemon.
In the same year, on September 7, died Blessed Tsuji, a Jesuit priest who is counted among the Franciscan martyrs because he was also a Tertiary or at least a Cordbearer of St Francis. With him died the Tertiaries Blessed Aloysius Maki, and his son Blessed John Maki.
Thirteen died on September 8, 1628. Among them were one mother and three fathers with one or more of their sons. The mother was Blessed Louise Chikago of Nagasaki, and her martyr son was Blessed John Romano. Blessed Louis Nihachi, a catechist, was the father of the two child martyrs, Blessed Dominic Nihachi, two years old, and Blessed Francis Nihachi, five years old. Another father, Blessed John Tomachi, a sailor, laid down his life for the Faith together with four sons, Blessed Paul Tomachi, seven years old, Blessed Thomas Tomachi, ten years old, Blessed Michael Tomachi, thirteen years old, and Blessed Dominic Tomachi, sixteen years old. The third father and his son were both sailors, Blessed Michael Yamada and Blessed Lawrence Yamada. The last in this group of martyrs was Blessed Matthew Alvarez, who was the pilot of a ship which was built in Japan for the Franciscan missionaries and was to be used by them to bring new missionaries to the country from the Philippines. The sailors mentioned all belonged to the crew of this ship.
Among the Tertiary martyrs, Blessed Lucy Freites distinguished herself in a special manner by her heroism. Holding aloft a crucifix, she led the martyrs who died with her to the place of execution, encouraging them by her words and intoning Christian hymns in which the others joined her. Even while standing in the fire, by which she was burned to death, she prayed for her country and admonished the pagans who stood about to embrace the Christian Faith.
“Can the Christian religion be false,” she cried, “when it gives old women and delicate children so much courage and strength? Your gods are false and deceptive, but our God is real and true to His promises; He will receive us into His kingdom and grant us eternal bliss.” Then her body sank into the fire, but her soul winged its flight to heaven.
From: The Franciscan Book of Saints, Marion A. Habig, OFM
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