November 18th: Blessed Leonard Kimura, SJ

Blessed Leonard Kimura, SJ

Born: 1575
Died: Nov 18, 1619
Beatified: May 7, 1867

Bl Leonard Kimura belonged to the distinguished Kimura family. His grandfather was the first Japanese to receive the waters of baptism from St Francis Xavier when the latter visited the island of Hirado off Japan’s western shore in Oct 1550 and was also the man who offered hospitality to the saint. Leonard’s parents later moved to Nagasaki as it was becoming a Christian centre. It was there that Leonard was born in 1575. He attended the Jesuit school and served as a lay catechist for fourteen years, traveling with the Jesuit priests on their missionary trips. He became a Jesuit brother in Nov 1602 when he was twenty-seven, initially as a cook, tailor and painter before taking up his catechetical career and joined the missionaries on their apostolic journeys.

When the 1614 decree was promulgated banishing all missionaries from Japan, many Jesuits were forced to leave the country but Bro Kimura decided to remain and for the next two years he worked alone and live the life of a fugitive to avoid being arrested. In Dec 1616 while he was in Nagasaki, he was arrested with a small group of Christians but because he was dressed as a Japanese gentleman, his captors did not know they had caught a Jesuit. At the trial the judge offered him the usual 200 pieces of silver if he could reveal the whereabouts of a Jesuit priest, but Bro Kimura honestly replied: “I know one Jesuit; he is a brother and not a priest.” And when offered 100 silver pieces for information on this brother, Bro Kimura calmly replied: “I am the brother.” whereupon he was sent to prison for his admission.

In prison, Bro Kimura found four companions, all laymen who were arrested for harbouring priests, one of them his own brother-in-law, Andrew Tokuan. Another was a Portuguese who gave hospitality to Fr Spinola and two other Koreans. The five of them were imprisoned for almost three years and during that time, Bro Kimura instructed the jailers and the non-Christian prisoners in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith, converting ninety-six and transformed the prison into a Christian community, with fixed times for prayer and meditation. When the five were finally brought before Governor Gonroku, he asked Bro Kimura why he remained in Japan after the Emperor had outlawed Christianity. He answered: “I remained so that I could teach you about the true God and preach His law, and as long as I live I will never stop doing it.” For this Bro Kimura was given the “death by slow fire” sentence by the governor.

On the morning of Nov 18, 1619, as the five prisoners were led to the hill of execution near Nagasaki, Bro Kimura was praying for himself and his four companions, asking our Lord and Our Lady to come to their assistance in their final moments. As they stood fastened to the stakes and the flames engulfing them, Bro Kimura’s voice filled the air preaching the glory of the Catholic faith, for which he and his companions were offering themselves as burnt sacrifices. A contemporary present at the execution recorded that about 20,000 people were present to witness the event. The Christians present to see their brethren go to heaven never did see five men die so joyfully. Eleven days after their martyrdom, Bro Kimura’s blood-brother Anthony, a layman, was also martyred on the hill. Later on Sep 10, 1622, his sister Mary, whose husband had died with Bro Kimura and his Jesuit cousin Sebastian Kimura were also martyred there. The Kimura family boasts five members in the ranks of the Blessed.

Bro Kimura was one of the thirty-four Jesuits who died during the Great Persecution and who were beatified by Pope Pius IX on May 7, 1867. The Jesuits celebrates their memorial on Feb 4.