August 25th: Michael Carvalho, SJ – Japanese Martyr

Blessed Michael Carvalho, SJ - Japanese Martyr

Born: 1579
Died: August 25, 1624
Beatified : May 7, 1867

Michael Carvalho was born in Braga, Portugal in 1579. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1597 when he was eighteen and started his noviceship in Coimbra, Portugal. He yearned to go on the Japanese mission and in 1602, was finally sent to Goa, India, where he completed his studies at St Paul’s College and was ordained. Despite his desire to do missionary work in Japan Fr Carvalho remained in Goa as he was asked by his superior to teach theology at the seminary, accepting it as the will of God. He taught for ten years during which time he continued to nurture his interest in Japan and finally when he was forty in 1619, received his heart’s desire.

In early 1619, Fr Carvalho set sail for Goa but his ship was shipwrecked off Malacca and he had to wait for more than a year before he could get a passage to Japan. He boarded a vessel that took him to the Chinese coastal harbour of Anam and from there he walked to Macau where he sailed to Manila en route to Nagasaki. He landed in Nagasaki in 1621, disguised as a Portuguese soldier because the Great Persecution against Catholics was in force, making it necessary for all missionaries to go into hiding and to go about their priestly duties in secret. Fr Carvalho spent the first two years learning Japanese in an island near Nagasaki and became very fluent

Fr Carvalho’s eagerness to go out and preach God’s word and his enthusiasm for confronting the non-Christians with the truths of Christianity, led him to go before the district’s governor and openly introduced himself as a priest and Jesuit, and declared his intentions to preach and convert the people. The governor was surprised at his brashness, and perhaps admiring his audacity, banished him from the island instead of handing him over to be punished. Fr Carvalho found himself on the island of Kyushu in unknown surroundings but Providence arranged that two Christians he met earlier recognized him and led him to the Jesuit provincial in Nagasaki. The provincial, Fr Francis Pacheco arranged for Fr Carvalho to go to Omura to begin his missionary apostolate, for the Christians there had requested for a priest to visit them and hear confessions.

On his way to Nagasaki after completing his task in Omura on July 22, 1623, a spy suspecting him to be a priest turned him in to the police. At Omura’s prison, he met a Dominican priest, two Franciscan priests and a catechist. The prison was an enclosure made of stakes and without roof or walls. The prisoners were subject to the heat, cold wind and rain. They were given a few handfuls of rice and a saucer of water in the morning and evening. They were unable to wash or change clothing and were without sanitation. Fr Carvalho wrote to another Jesuit saying: “we are all feeble and infirm in body, but we are sustained and consoled in spirit as God grants his favours in proportion to our sufferings.”

Fr Carvalho spent thirteen months in the enclosure and finally on August 24, 1624, word arrived that the five were to be executed by slow fire. The next morning they were taken to the shore where they boarded a boat that took them to Hokonohara, near Shimabara. There, with ropes round their necks, the five walked to the stakes awaiting them. With a crucifix each in their hands, their eyes fixed on the figure of our Lord, they sang psalms to God. Fr Carvalho, the first to be fastened spoke to the onlookers: “You must understand that we are Christians and that we die of our free and voluntary accord for the faith of Christ our Lord.” The wood around the stake was so arrange that it would not all go up in flames at once to ensure the execution by slow fire punishment was meted out. The great heat finally began to burn their clothes and the martyrdom lasted almost two hours before Fr Carvalho and his companions returned their souls to God.

Fr Carvalho and his four companions were among 205 Japanese martyrs who were beatified by Pope Pius IX on May 7, 1867