The Jesuit Mission to Save Ferreira: Marcello Mastrilli
There were three specific attempts to contact Ferreira and persuade him to renounce his apostasy. The first attempt was made by the Italian Jesuit Marcello Mastrilli (1603-1637).
On October 18, 1633, after hanging in the pit for five painful hours, Christovão Ferreira denied his God. That same year, far away from Asia and Japan, when taking out the splendid decorations for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at Naples, a heavy beam chanced to fall upon the head of a Jesuit Priest, Fr. Marcello Mastrilli, then 30 years old. His father, the Marquis San Marzano, was a noble of Nola, and his mother, a Caracciolo, was also of the most illustrious Italian blood. This intelligent, virtuous, pious priest, was carried away bleeding and unconscious. Brain-fever and delirium succeeded. The doctor declared that his recovery was impossible. The Provincial, Father de Sangro, came to visit and bid him farewell. Fr Mastrilli was then anointed. On this evening he heard a voice calling to him: "Marcello! Marcello!"
He saw St. Francis Xavier in a pilgrim's dress, radiant and beautiful, saying: "You are cured. Kiss the wounds of your crucifix in thanksgiving," bidding him at the same time apply the relic of the true Cross to his neck, and consecrate himself entirely to his Lord, Who had stained that Cross with His Blood, and beg the grace to shed the last drop of his own blood for His Name.
The Saint then disappeared, and Father Mastrilli found himself cured. He got up, went to inform his Superior of the event, and said Mass next morning in thanksgiving without pain.
When the terrible news of Fr. Ferreira's apostasy reached Europe, Mastrilli, inspired by the intercession of St. Francis, petitioned to be sent to Japan. When he went for permission the General replied: "You need scarcely ask me for leave when St. Francis himself has given it to you."
Fr. Mastrilli hastened on to Macao and Manila, and finally reached Satsuma in Japan. The few timid Christians from Manila who had been examined by Japanese officers, soon betrayed his coming. After a brief search, Mastrilli was found praying in a thicket with his arms in the form of a cross, and much weakened by hunger. He said to them gently: " Come, my children, and take me." They then approached and bound his hands. Gagged and chained hand and foot on horseback, Fr. Mastrilli, was carried through Nagasaki, and plunged into the pit. There he remained alive for three days. The Governor finding that after repeated inspections that Fr. Mastrilli was still living and refusing to apostatize, ordered him to be beheaded.
At the third stroke of the blade, when his head fell, the air was darkened and the earth shook, and rocked to and fro, so that all the spectators were appalled. They hacked his body to pieces, burnt and crushed it into dust, which they cast into the air and into the river, so that not a relic might remain.
Fr. Mastrilli's apostolate in Japan was only to suffer and shed his blood, without preaching sermons, without baptizing converts, and without even offering Masses in Japan. But 16 years later, his sacrifice and that of other martyrs will obtained graces for Japan's persecuted Catholics.
The Second Attempt: Pedro Kibe
The second attempt was made by the Japanese Jesuit Blessed Pedro Kibe (Kasui).
Pedro Kibe walked to Rome from Goa, India, to become a Jesuit. While at Roman College in Rome, he witnessed the death of his classmate St. John Berchmans and that of St. Robert Bellarmine. He participated in Rome in the canonizations of St. Ignatius Loyola and of St. Francis Xavier. With his superior’s permission, he left for Japan in 1623 to save the souls of his countrymen. When he arrived at Japan, he was already 43 year old. He worked in Nagasaki at first, then Kyoto, and Sendai until being arrested.
Condemned to death in the pit at Edo in July 1639, Kibe addressed a fervent speech to Ferreira on meeting with him in Edo and admonished him to repent.
Kibe endured the pit torture with two other Jesuits: Giovanni Battista Porro and Martinho Shikimi, who apostatized. The Japanese official records read: "Kibe Pedro did not renounce.” Because he did not renounce the Faith, he was beheaded.
Third and Final Attempt
In 1638, after working in the Indian mission, Fr. Antonio Rubino was sent to Macao at his own request and was nominated Visitor in October 1639. In 1642, Rubino set out to Japan with a large group of missionaries, consisting of nine priests, one brother, and several catechists.
The expedition was divided into two groups in order to keep discretion. Rubio left for Japan with four priests on 1642, while the second group, under the leadership of Pedro Márquez, set out in 1643.
In August, Rubino and his companions' ship reached Japan and they were immediately apprehended and brought to Nagasaki. There they were closely interrogated, and then led to the prison at Ōmura. On March 1643, they were condemned to the pit torture and died. Three of them, who survived the torment for nine days, were pulled out of the pit and beheaded.
Appeal to a Brother Priest
Rubino had composed an appeal to Ferreira in Latin and intended to send it to him upon his arrival in Japan.
Are you that Christopher who in 1596, on the holy day of the birth of Christ, was born for God and the Society at the age of sixteen, and did you give her your name?
Are you that Christopher who, forgetting parents, relatives and friends, and despising the things of this world, took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience before the Provincial, Fr. Christovão Gouvea, in the college of Coimbra on the feast of the blessed proto-martyr Stephen in the year 1598? Have you followed in the footsteps of such a great martyr only to deny Christ, for whom that saint was stoned to death?
Are you that Christopher who, on 4 April 1600, left the mother country and soil of Portugal and sailed to the East Indies to bring to that region the light of the Gospel? Have you brought that light there only to deny the true God?
Are you that Christopher who, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, started from Goa on 1 May 1601 for the Japanese mission?
Are you that Christopher who in the year 1608 at dawn on the same morning on which Jesus our Savior was born, celebrated your first holy sacrifice of the Mass? Have you misused those Holy Orders so that you may be dedicated to Satan?
Are you that Christopher who, thirsting for the salvation of the souls of the Japanese, boarded ship on May 16, 1609 and sailed for Japan? Have you really brought them salvation, or have you through your bad example misled many from the true path?
Are you that Christopher who joyfully pronounced the four solemn vows before the Provincial, Fr. Mattheus de Couros, on October 1, 1617 at Nagasaki? Should you not have preserved this loyalty which was vowed to God and the Society in the presence of so many witnesses? Should you not have remembered what we have so solemnly promised and to whom?
Are you that Christopher to whom our Society committed with great confidence the leadership of the whole Japanese province and the duties of bishop on December 23,1632? Have you administered it only that you may turn your back on Christ and his Order? What a terrible change! How you have degraded yourself! I perish with tears and sighs when I think on this.”
In June 1643 the Second Rubino Group, consisting of the Italian Jesuits Pedro Márquez, Alonso Arroyo, Francisco Cassola, Giuseppe Chiara, and six companions, landed on Ōshima in Chikuzen and were immediately arrested.
In Nagasaki, Marquez was subjected to water torture. There were several types of water torture in use including forcing the victim to swallow great amounts of water with a funnel and then beating his belly with bamboo rods. Marquez managed to survive this torture.
By order of the government, all four priests were sent to Edo on July 27 for inquisition. The prisoners reached Edo on August 27. There they were frequently questioned by the supreme court and even by the shogun, Iemitsu, himself. Ferreira was present as an interpreter at the trial. He was ordered to go to Edo from Nagasaki to be the interpreter for these proceedings.
The priests were condemned to the torture of the pit, where, according to the report of the inquisitor, they all apostatized. They were then allowed to live in Japan under confinement in a “Christian house” and given Japanese names. (The location of this infamous “Christian house” (Kirishitan Yashiki) is near the SSPX Mass center in Tokyo.)
Giuseppe Chiara's last name was changed to Okamoto, and he was given a Japanese wife. We know that Chiara remained at the “Christian house” for 40 years until his death in 1685. (This Fr. Chiara is the model for Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues in Endo’s aforementioned novel Silence).
If we believe Atlas Japannensis written by Arnoldus Montanus (1625–1683) a Dutch Protestant writer who never came to Japan and only collected the news from the Dutch, the Jesuit priests
though they had apostatized from the Christian Faith, yet declared publicly to the Interpreters that they did not freely apostatize; but the insufferable torments which had been inflicted upon them, had forced them to it. The Council asked them at large concerning their opinions, and the power of God; on which one answered faintly, but the rest were much more resolute.Then follow reproaches to the missionaries for misleading the Japanese people with their religion, accusations of bringing them under the Spanish Empire and of provoking the deaths of thousands of Japanese. Then, after a long theological discourse about the idols of the pagans and Buddhism, Montanus closes his account of the interrogation as follows:
The Japan Council not well experienced in the Romish Religion, wanted questions to ask them, and therefore called for Syovan [Ferreira], the Apostate Priest, who was there ready for that purpose. So soon as he saw the Jesuits, he looked very fiercely upon them, notwithstanding he had formerly been one of their Order.”
To these blasphemous discourses the wisest of the Jesuits said notwithstanding these words come from Syovan, yet they ought to be reproved; and I tell you, that we believe, that without God’s permission none can hurt one hair of our heads, neither is there salvation for the immortal soul without God; and to forsake him, either for worldly ends, or cruel torments, must upon necessity be a great sin: meanwhile God denies not mercy to those, that in the last hour beg it, if they are penitent, and depend on their Savior Jesus Christ.The Death of a Martyr?
It seemed as if the Jesuit would have said more, but that the Councellors Sackay Sammoccysama, and Matsodairo Ysosamma gave a sign that the four Jesuits should be led from thence. Afterwards the Dutch heard that two of the Jesuits had retracted their apostasy and had refused to join a Buddhist sect.”
In 1652, news about Ferreira reached the outside world. It was said that he had recanted and had been condemned to death in the pit as a result. Fr. Joseph Franz Schütte, S.J. (1906-1981) made a critical investigation about Ferreira’s martyrdom using original European documents preserved in Rome. He is inclined to believe that the substance the reports are trustworthy and he summarizes the various accounts of Fr. Ferreira’s death as follows:
Fr. Ferreira was already more than 80 years old, and for years had been confined to bed by sickness and weakness. A great change took place in his soul and his deed now appeared to him in a completely different light. He abhorred his action as a cowardly betrayal of God and expressed his inner convictions in a loud voice. His neighbors heard him talking and finally informed the soldiers of the governor. They visited the house of the sick tsūya and asked him the reason for his grief. The Father explained to them with all frankness and firmness his sorrow and his inner conversion. The soldiers joked and made fun of him, saying that he was out of his mind, but he contradicted them firmly. On the contrary, he showed himself ready to die for his faith.Some scholars consider this second-hand account optimistic and remark that the martyrdom of Fr. Ferreira is reported neither in the Dutch sources nor in the Japanese records, although his name can be found in the death registers of the Zen temples in Nagasaki. This silence is not proof against martyrdom. The government would never have recognized a retraction of his apostasy and might well have tried to cover the matter up.
The soldiers then reported this to the governor, who hesitated for a while but, after he had ascertained the facts, condemned Christovão to death in the pit. The sentence, however, was to be carried out in all secrecy so as to avoid causing excitement in the city. The soldiers returned to Ferreira's house, and seeing that he remained constant in his intention, they dragged him off to the torture of the pit. However, they were not able to prevent many Japanese, both Christian and non-Christian, as well as non-Christian Chinese, from attending the martyrdom. The soldiers bound Ferreira and hanged him head downward into the pit. With this torture Ferreira ended his life courageously for Christ.”