THREE YEARS AT ORMUZFather Gaspar Baertz had to bear one of those bitter trials which often await an Apostolic labourer. All of a sudden his toils seemed to have been crowned with success; and then, as quickly, his hopes were dashed to the ground. He was in the middle of a Lenten sermon, when the King of Ormuz sent for him. He left the pulpit at once, and was received by the King with all the honours wont to be paid to illustrious visitors. After a few compliments, the King withdrew into his private cabinet, taking with him only his Portuguese interpreter and the astonished Father, whom he forced to sit down on the royal throne, while he cast himself on his knees at his feet, reverently kissed his hand, and then took a lowly chair by his side. The upshot of the conversation explained all these demonstrations of respect.
The King declared that he was convinced of the truth of the Catholic Faith, and would there and then have asked for baptism, if he had not feared a revolution and rebellion in his States. He only waited till more of his nobles were converted, and till the Catholic forces could afford him their protection, to carry out his intentions. Father Gaspar, full of joyful gratitude, could not gainsay the delay. Precipitation would have been followed by the total ruin of the Faith.The fanaticism of the Mahometans and pagans would have been roused, the neighbouring sovereigns of Arabia and Persia would have been only too glad to have intervened with prospective views of plunder, if not of conquest . One suggestion, however, Father Gaspar made, and on which he insisted— that the King, while keeping his intentions strictly private, should order a public discussion to be held between the chief Mahometan doctors and himself. But so long an audience could not escape notice, and report quickly spread far and wide that the King was already received into the Church. At first, the goodwill that Father Baertz had gained, the impression which his life and teachings had produced, made the rumoured conversion be received with general satisfaction.
There was a sort of movement which at one time seemed to augur that twenty-five thousand Moors would follow their sovereign's example, and a great number of the aristocracy went so far as to choose their name of baptism, and to settle on their godfathers and godmothers.When I saw [writes Father Gaspar to St. Ignatius] so precious a booty escaped from my hands, which would have made me rich for all the rest of my days, bitter indeed was the sorrow that I felt. I laid the whole blame on my fearful sins, which are the cause of it all. I am still grieving over this past sorrow, as if perchance it had its rise in hidden pride, just as though (this conversion) had to be the fruit of my labours, and not purely the work of God, who disposes all things according to His just and holy will Father Gaspar did not despair. Though the palace gates were strictly guarded against him, he had recourse to prayer, and organized a procession of penance through the city.
The ambition and energy of the King's mother was the instrument by which five of the Court, who were opposed to his conversion, were able to hinder it altogether. Every argument was employed by her, the influence of affection, motives of fear, suggestions of jealousy against a foreign creed, all were used; and the tears and eloquence of the Queen were too successful.
The Mahometans, emboldened by his failure, came out into the streets and openly insulted the Christians. They made their trysting-place a mosque outside the walls, situated on a hill overlooking the former residence of the converted Jogues, which had become the College of the Society. From its roof they howled out defiance and blasphemy against the Faith.And, therefore [writes Father Gaspar to his brethen of Portugal], I judged, in our Lord, that I must go out into the field for Christ's sake, just as David did against Goliath, because he could not bear any longer the insults of the proud Philistine. So having made the evening sermon on the Passion [as he was accustomed every Friday night], I took a great cross, so big that it required two men to carry it, and we went in procession through the city, and up the mountain, and so into the mosque where they used to insult the Cross of Christ, and there I planted it in the most conspicuous place. Great was the fear that the Moors had of the Cross when they saw the mosque was taken.
Next day they gathered together in thousands, and cried in a loud voice to Mahomet; asking him why he did not avenge so great an outrage wrought by these Franks, that is ourselves. Straightway they abandoned all the mosques they had in the plain, and especially a large one, they call Gilalabata, where every year they work great superstitions, cutting themselves all over with razors for love of Mahomet, and reciting his laws with tears, just as we mourn the death of Christ.Praised be the Lord who has so humbled the proud hearts of this mosque! I have made it into a hermitage of Our Lady of Suffering, a most devotional spot, and well suited for meditation, and there I have placed a man of holy life, and given up to penance. The Moors to prove their law was better than ours, gave sermons in the city, and shouted out in their alcoran1 at the top of their voices. They got on the roof of the splendid mosque, one of the most magnificent in the whole East, and from it they renewed their cries of insult and blasphemy against the Christians. Many catechumens were terrified with their violence, and drew back from baptism. The Christians asked me to get some remedy for all this, and remembering the words of Christ—compelle eos intrare, I sent at once to the King of Ormuz ... to beg him to order that they should not cry out from their alcoran. And this for many reasons, first because we were on our own ground, and so they did us wrong; and secondly, because of the treason that was being plotted with the Turk, about which we should have to send word to the King of Portugal, and then we should do what he would command.
Evidently a menace on Father Baertz's part; for as he goes on—
I did not aim at more than raising the spirits of those who were every day presenting themselves for baptism; so as, little by little, to let the law of Mahomet pass into oblivion, and thus hasten their conversion. The Moors understood my intentions, and so paid little heed. [The message to the King had evidently been intercepted, or he had been powerless to assist and protect the Father.] Then I sent to tell them that if, living as they did in the midst of Christians, they did not give over shouting, I with my children of the catechism class would take their great mosque and plant therein a large cross; and at once I caused five crosses to be made, and on the following day I made a procession with the five, all raised on high, so as to frighten the Moors, singing the litanies as we walked, and saying, "Lord, God, have mercy on us!" A strong body of Mahometans guarded the entrance of the chief mosque. And so we went up to the King's gate. Such was the mystery of these five crosses, that at once they ceased their cries, and all in great fear took to flight, and I myself was sent for by the King.
The Sultan repeated the marks of honour which he had shown Father Gaspar at his first audience, and he Begged my pardon, saying that some day he would keep his promise; and that he had given orders that they should not shout for Mahomet any more in the alcoran, nor in the whole of the island.So, too, he caused the gate of the alcoran to be walled up; and he made a number of most beautiful presents to the college.The courage of Father Baertz gave peace, at least for a time, to the Christians ; and won him the thanks of the Viceroy of India, who him wrote a letter of warm congratulation. But it as naturally excited the indignation of those who had not been won by his preaching, or gained by his heroic self-sacrifice. " They declared the city would be deserted, which is now more splendid and more prosperous than it had ever before been, as the customs which used to bring in forty thousand ducats, now amounted to one hundred and twenty thousand, and the ships which used to go to Mecca, now all come here and pay their dues." The neighbouring princes were expected to come to their aid. But the discontented took a surer method to gain their end.
The chivalrous and faithful Don Mafioel de Lima had been succeeded, as governor of the fort, by Don Henry Norogna, and the lax morality of so many of his brethren suggested to the Moslems of Ormuz their new plan of operations.What the Moors could not compass by means of their King, they resolved to intrust to some wicked Christians of this place, and through their favour to undo the insult which had been offered to Mahomet, by taking away the alcoran and depriving them of the right of crying out, for in that their whole law consists! Just then it fell out that there came here a new captain to stay in the fortress, and he was paid twenty thousand ducats to re-open the alcoran, and to give leave to the Moslems to shout. They were leagued with the worst Christians of the place, thinking it a good action to gain their end, and to open the mosque.
But Christ, by whose power and order this had been ordained, gave help to His own. He so terrified the captain, who feared that the people would rise for love of me, that he dared not carry out his intention, without first letting me know the whole.He invited me one day to dinner, and just as he began to tell me of the temptation he had to open the alcoran, he was stricken down by a sudden seizure. Ever since that, he has never more though of interfering about the alcoran; he even offered me to destroy it. The wicked Christians, who were the intermediaries of the Moors, all are dead, and the memory of them has perished with them. God forgive them their sins, quia sci-L'icrant potius creatura, quam Creatori. Orate pro et's. We are living now in perfect quiet, and are greatly on the increase.
The Church of Christ is growing daily. The people are in much fervour, and do frequent penance, by fasting and disciplines. They give great proofs of piety, make many processions, with litanies.Such a state of things presents a strange contrast to Ormuz as Father Gaspar found it, and as he described it in a former letter. How he was able to face such a torrent of iniquity, and how he was able to stay it, he tells us in another letter, cited by Fr. Daniello Bartoli, S.J. —
Take this piece of advice from your wretched brother. It will serve to arm you with God's strength when you are summoned to the mission. " If God is our Light and our Helper, what is there to fear, save His wrath ? " I have found it a great aid. Otherwise how could I, weak, tepid, icy cold as I was when I came to Ormuz, how could I pass through the fire of such tribulations without being destroyed? And yet, "with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I return with two companies."3 I make two suggestions to you. One is, that Jesus defends the Society and its children, as though they were His own; for He does not look so much at its merits, as at His love. The second is, that the prayers of our very dear fathers and brothers in Europe and in India are always burning in God's sight. So " we are many members but one body, whose head is Jesus;" and thus though the servants are many, the service rendered is one.
The letters from Goa and from the East to the Society in Europe told of the wondrous news that reached the writers of them of the success of the Flemish Father at Ormuz. The sailors and merchants carried the intelligence of the marvellous change that he had wrought in that former sink of vice to the furthest coast of Persia and Arabia. There was at that time an artilleryman in the Turkish service stationed in the fort of El Katif, in Arabia, on the Persian Gulf some three hundred miles from Ormuz. Though a Mahometan by profession and by practice, John, such was his real name, was a countryman of Father Gaspar; or at all events was the son of a rich Flemish merchant residing in the busy city of Cologne. Many others
of his time, what with the movement of the wars, the new religion, the thirst for gold or adventure, had broken the bonds of kindred, and gone from every part of Europe into far-off countries. We do not know what were the exact reasons that made John turn a prodigal, but it was no doubt in part owing to the temper of the times. In any case, when quite young, he left his friends and home to wander out into the world. Poverty overtook him in the East, and he abandoned his faith and took service as a mercenary. The news of what was doing at Ormuz, the report of the numbers of Turks who had become Christians reached his ears. He was stricken by grace, and he deeply repented his apostacy and wicked life.
A ship happened to come into port, bound for Ormuz. John could not get any ink, but he mixed some gunpowder with water and wrote with that strange substitute a letter in Latin, French, and Flemish to the Father, not knowing to what nation he belonged.
He told his sad story, begged the protection of the Portuguese, and declared that he was ready to risk his life, by taking to flight, in order to be reconciled to God and His Church, and that he was willing to accept whatever penance he might think fit to impose on him for his crimes. Father Gaspar was deeply touched at the letter, and immediately wrote an answer, encouraging him to come at once, and assuring him of his pardon. No more was heard of the man till some months later.
The Portuguese fleet under Don Antonio Norogna with two hundred picked troops on board was coasting round the Persian Gulf, with orders to attack the Turks. The commander assaulted El Katif. The town was carried and pillaged, and then with great slaughter the fortress too was taken. While the men were sacking the captain's quarters, they came across a letter of Father Baertz. They read it with surprise, and inquired of the Moors who was the man to whom it had been addressed.
The story was soon told. The letter had fallen into the Mahometan captain's hands, and furious at the revelation which it contained, he ordered John to be brought before him, and asked him at once which religion he professed, that of Christ or that of Mahomet. He answered boldly, "That of Christ;" nor could threats nor promises make him unsay his words. He declared that he would gladly die to atone for the grave disorders of his past life. The Turk could hardly restrain himself from killing him on the spot, but he handed him over to his men, who slowly hacked him in pieces. His head was fixed on a lance and placed on the battlements. There the Portuguese found it, and taking it down, they wrapt it reverently in a rich stuff, and took it back with them to Father Gaspar. The Father met it in state followed by a multitude of people singing psalms and hymns of rejoicing, and solemnly the martyr's head was borne into the town, with a triumph, says Bartoli, greater than that which welcomed Norogna after his hard-earned victory.
Another instance of the spread of Gaspar's work beyond the island where he was labouring is given in his letter.
I was thinking what fruit could be gathered in Oman and in Arabia Felix, where there are four very fine and ancient cities, which were among the first to be led away by Mahomet and his false doctrines. The inhabitants there are simple, and of a good disposition, ruled over by a virtuous and worthy chief. This is that strong people who are called Ammonites in Scripture, and who waged war with the children of Israel. There is still there a great temple of Jupiter of the days of the Gentiles. When then I was thinking of this, I received a letter from the agent at Muscat, the copy of which I here inclose, and there came two of the inhabitants who had travelled over land, a journey of two months, to seek baptism at my hands. They are at present here in the College of Catechumens. They tell me of a great movement throughout the whole land, and they say that every one is expecting me. It grieves me very much not to be able to content every one, or to comply with so holy a petition, for Father Master Francis, in fear lest some unregulated desires and fervour of mine might work harm to myself, and lead me into Persia in search of martyrdom, has ordered me, in virtue of obedience, that for three years I am not to leave Ormuz. So I can make no change. If, meantime, Master Francis should come, I shall go to Oman. If not, I shall send there some of my brothers whom I have received here, who are full of the desire of suffering, and never think of the fatigue they would have to endure there, for the country is very hot, and the only food are dates, and fish, without bread.
Oman, as that portion of Arabia Felix is now called, containing the powerful state of Muscat, from its nearness to Ormuz had naturally heard of the spread of Christianity; Pedro Lobato, who was the collector of the tribute to the King of Portugal, had no small share in seconding the good desires of the people. And the two, who came to Father Gaspar, had been selected from their chiefs to go in solemn embassy to seek the light of faith and the grace of baptism for their people. Owing to St . Francis Xavier's orders, Father Baertz could do no more than baptize them after careful instruction, and let them go back unaccompanied to their country. Nor was he able to send anyone later on. Of those whom he had received into the Society, five, the most promising in every way, died a short time after. Their severe austerities, unchecked by a regular superior, seemed to have shortened their days. The Father wrote to Japan to beg St . Francis to relax the prohibition he had laid upon him, but the letter either never reached its destination, or the answer was lost on its way.
Orate pro nobis [Father Gaspar continues], I do not want to go on writing, because I have not time to get my meals, much less to write long letters. Whenever I think I am to have less work, I always find some more to do. Laus Deo. It has pleased our Lord God to visit this people with many and grievous sicknesses this year, which are accompanied with violent headaches owing to the great heat. And that we may have more merit, all the priests of the place are ill, and the Vicar General and another have died. So I have to hear all the confessions, and to attend all the funerals. As the church is left unserved, I have to act as vicar, and sing the Missa cantata on Sundays and holidays. Praised be Christ, that I who learnt singing in the world not with this object, now find it a help in God's service. Nee mirum (no wonder) quia diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum. Not only what is good, but even what is bad is now of a help to me; so when I remember what fatigues I bore for the sake of the world, I am ashamed to grow weary now in suffering for Christ. When I remember too how many sins I have committed, I cannot have enough to do for Christ; it seems to me always, and it is so in reality, that I do nothing in comparison to what I ought to do, quia servus inutilis sum. Therefore I beg you all my dearest brothers to have a continual remembrance of me in your prayers and sacrifices, ut dignus efficiar promissionibus Christi. Next year, favente Deo, I shall write more at large about what will happen between now and then.
From this College of the Good Jesus at Ormuz, November 24, 1550.
In a postscript, he says—
We are having a great war in this Persian Gulf with the Turks, who want to take (our) territory, and off India they have captured some of our squadron that was sailing against them, and slaughtered a number of our Christian soldiers. I am in great want of confessors of the Society to go with these troops. Do not fail, for love of God, to send some.