S.G.JAMES de MESQUITA & 4 COMPANIONS, SJ
Died: October 26, 1633
James de Mesquita was bornin Mesao Frio, Portugal in 1553. He served on the Japanese mission and it was he who finally led the four noble envoys, aged fourteen or fifteen years old, chosen by recently converted Japanese princes to visit the kings of Portugal and Spain in 1582 and to offer the Pope their obedience. Wherever these four noble youths visited, they were greeted as royalty. And when they met the king of Portugal, it was as if four heads of state had come to Lisbon. Throughout these official visits Fr James guided the youthful envoys. Rome also celebrated the envoys entry on March 23, 1585 surrounded by cardinals, bishops, knights and cavalry, as the four young men dressed in their princely ceremonial robes arrived and made its way to the Vatican to meet the ailing Pope Gregory XIII who greeted them affectionately. They even stayed on until the next Pope, Sixtus V was elected following the death of Pope Gregory XIII. They stayed at the Jesuit residence, where Fr General Claudio Acquaviva welcomed them until they set sail for their return journey to Japan on June 3, 1586 in a vessel that King Philip II had fitted at his own expense.
When Fr James returned to Japan, however, he found that the emperor Hideyoshi had abandoned his sympathy for Christianity and his support of the Jesuits and had initiated a persecution. Fr Alexander Valignano who was envoy for the Portuguese viceroy in India who was then on his way to visit the emperor to express Portugal’s gratitude for his support for the Catholic Church, decided instead of going to Japan immediately, wrote the letter from Macau requesting an audience which was granted. Upon which he, Fr James and the four nobles arrived in Nagasaki in July, 1590 but was able to meet up with the emperor only on March 3, 1591. Although Fr Valignano was unable to get the emperor to rescind the banishment decree, the latter agreed not to enforce the decree fully as long as the missionaries refrained from meddling in Japanese politics. The emperor permitted some Jesuits to remain in Nagasaki to care for the Portuguese community.
Fr James as the superior of the Jesuits in Nagasaki and rector of the church made Nagasaki the centre of his apostolate, using the church for the Portuguese community but ministered to the Japanese Christians in their homes. He was able to print Catholic books using the printing press which he brought with him from Europe. In July that same year (1591) the four nobles who had visited Europe all entered the Society, and one of them, Julian Nakaura, later died a martyr’s death. On October 26, 1633 Shogun Iyeyasu ascended the throne and decreed the banishment of all missionaries and the closure of all Christian churches. The Jesuit missionaries were ordered for deportation at Nagasaki and of the eighty Jesuits in Japan, sixty-two went to Nagasaki and the remaining eighteen went into hiding to continue ministering to the Japanese Christians. When the sixty-two arrived in Nagasaki there were no ships in port until 1 arrived in June and did not leave for several months forcing them to live in cramped quarters and without proper food. Iyeyasu, impatient with the slow deportation process, ordered the missionaries to gather at the port and wait on shore for ships to arrive which meant that they were open to the elements and they had to build straw huts to keep from the sun.
Fr James was sixty-two and physically worn out after the ordeal of the last several months. He became ill but as he did not wish to leave his beloved Japan he prayed that the Lord would take him home before ships arrived. His prayer was answered for he died on November 4, 1614, three days before the junks came to port and took his Jesuit brothers into exile.
His 4 Jesuit Companions were:
Fr Anthony Francis de Critana, a Spaniard born in a small village of Almodovar del Campo, in the diocese of Toledo in 1548. In 1569, at the age of twenty-one, he entered the Society at the Jesuit college in Alcala de Henares after having earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Alcala. After ordination he was minister at the residence in Toledo for seven years before he left for Japan, arriving in Hirado in August 1586. Initially slated to work in the province of Bungo but because it was at was with Satsuma, he was reassigned to Yamaguchi where he was prefect of the church at All Saints College in Nagasaki from 1598 to 1614. Due to Iyeyasu’s decree of 1614 expelling all missionaries, he joined his fellow Jesuits on the shore to wait for the arrival of ships to take them into exile. He boarded one of the junks on Nov 7, 1614 but because his health suffered from the months of hardship and the privation on board the junk, he fell ill and died on board on Nov 24, about ninety miles from Manila. In response to the Jesuits’ request, the captain did not bury him at sea, but placed the sealed coffin on a small sloop and then buried it in the Mariveles area when they arrived at Manila. Later it was taken to the church attached to St Ignatius College in Manila.
Fr Gaspar de Crasto, a Spaniardwas born in Braga, Portugal in 1560 and entered the Society at Coimbra in 1580 as a brother. He served at an infirmarian at the college for a while. When Pope Sixtus V appointed Fr de Morais first bishop of Japan in 1588, the new bishop asked Br Crasto to accompany him and during the long voyage to India, he put his knowledge of medicine to use by caring for the sick passengers and crew. When the bishop himself fell ill and died at Mozambique, Br Crasto continued his trip to Goa. Fr Peter Martins who succeeded Bp Morias asked Br Crasto to go along with him and perceiving that the brother could become an excellent missionary, the bishop began teaching him Latin and moral theology and in 1596 ordained him in Macau. They set sail for Japan that year and arrived at Nagasaki on August 14, 1596. Fr Crasto began his missionary work and remained behind when the 1614 decree was promulgated but left a year later in 1615 for Macau. By 1620 he returned to Japan and carried out his priestly ministry but went into hiding when he heard that Fr Francis Pacheco, the Jesuit provincial, had been captured in 1625 and that the area was full of spies searching for priests. Fr Crasto was sixty-five years old and due to the cold winter months in a cave without fire and sufficient food his health broke and he became seriously ill. When his Christians found him they carried him to a protected spot in the woods of Takaku, but as his health was beyond repair, Fr Crasto died amid the peaceful trees on May 7, 1626 and it was there he was laid to rest.
Fr John de Baeza, aSpaniard, was born in Ubeda, Spain in 1558. He studied both civil and canon law at the University of Salamanca before he entered the Society in 1579. After ordination as a Jesuit he left for India in 1586 and when the ship made scheduled stops at Mozambique, Goa, and Macau, he took advantage of the delays to go ashore and preach to the people. Upon his arrival at Nagasaki on July 21, 1590, he began his apostolic work in the kingdom of Higo and it was said that he converted and baptized 70,000 Japanese, not counting the infants. Like St Francis Xavier who evangelised Japan, Fr Baeza had his Christians support his weary arms so that he could continue baptizing. From Higo he moved to Shimabara to be vicar general to Bp Luis Cerqueira, who succeeded Bp Peter Martins in 1598. After being expelled from Shimabara in 1612, Fr Baeza went to work up north but with the issue of the 1614 decree he went to Nagasaki. There he did not go into exile but went into hiding and for almost twelve years lived with Michael Nakashima (now a Blessed). When asked why he managed to elude his persecutors for so long a time, he only replied that “God saw to it that he had not yet been apprehended.”
Fr Baeza was stricken with paralysis toward the end of his life. Unable to move, his Christians carried him from house to house in a basket. He had often thought of death and was sure that it would be by sword, or fire, or perhaps on a cross, but it was only as he grew older that he realized that God was asking of him a slow martyrdom, through pain and suffering. Because his physical condition was so poor, the Jesuits had wanted to move him to China but before the plan materialized, Fr Baeza died on May 7, 1626.
Fr Matthew de Couros, also a Spaniard, was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1568. He entered the Society on December 22, 1583 and at his request he was sent to serve in the missions. He left in the same ship which took Fr Mesquita and the four Japanese noble envoys back to Goa. He did and completed some of his studies in India and Macau and arrived at Nagasaki on July 21, 1590. In March 1596 he returned to Macau but returned again in August that year. Fr Couros labored first in Arima and was among the exiles that left Nagasaki in Nov 1614 but his stay in Macau was short as he was back in Japan in August 1615. He was provincial of Japan from July 1617 to Oct 1621, when Fr Francis Pacheco succeeded him but assumed responsibility for the mission until 1630 when Fr Pacheco was captured in Dec 1625.
Most of Fr Couros’ priestly ministry had to be done at night to ensure he remained unspotted by spies. He had to go in some disguise if he had to venture out during the day. He had to travel much as provincial but remained unapprehended which he attributed to God’s protection. He had to resort to hiding at strange places such as pits which he found most distressing. In one of his letters dated 1626 he described a pit which his host built for him. “There was no light and he, his catechist and servant had to live in total darkness except when they were eating or when he had to recite the breviary, or when he had to write a letter in his role as a Provincial. The food provided was poor and meager because his host could not buy large amounts without causing suspicion. They moved pit once every thirty-five days. After years of privation and suffering, Fr Couros’ body could not endure much more and his health broke while travelling between Miyoko (today’s Kyoto) and Hasami and could not continue with the journey. Seeing a leper nearby, Fr Couros asked the leper to take him to his hut to rest to regain his strength. The leper gladly took him in and offered him whatever he could but the sixty-five year old priest was not to get better and after several days of intense suffering he died. His date of death was given as October 29, 1633.
Frs James de Mesquita’s cause together with his 4 Companions was opened in Macau in 1901.