Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fr. Marcello Mastrilli, S.J. And "Hell's Mouth"

Mount Unzen in Japan
In spite of all the edicts and precautions of the Japanese Government, several devoted Missionaries still contrived to evade the vindictive vigilance of the officials, and to remain on the island in disguise. Among these was Father Spinola, who said that the day on which he put on this disguise was one of even greater happiness than that on which he entered the Society. He was indeed needed ; for cruel persecutions arose everywhere, accompanied by new and hideous tortures. Christianity was to be stamped out by any and every means. At Arima and Chimabara the people were punished with mutilations and slow torture, and on the site of the college and church of the Jesuits two hundred persons were tortured to death in a most sickening manner.

A brutal universal threat was issued of forcibly sending all the women to the harems of rich pagans, and of crushing the Christian children to death with stones. During these frightful trials the exiled Missionaries, unconquerable, re-entered Japan in every possible disguise. In the armies of Christian or of favourable princes, as soldiers, labourers, rice-gatherers, porters, scavengers; hidden in the holes and warrens of wild animals, without light or air, under whatever painful and exceptional condition life can exist, these noble Ministers of Christ carried out their mission and kept the light of faith burning in the midst of the storm. By this means the sacraments were still continually administered to the destitute Christians of Japan, and again the early ages of the Church seem vividly renewed. Father Diego di S. Francisco, a Spanish Franciscan, managed to enter Yeddo, disguised as a soldier, and went to lodge in the lepers' hospital, where a little chapel was still preserved, for the lepers of course were shunned by every one. Hither, at the hourly peril of hideous disease and death the Faithful flocked, and their fervour was so great that the Father rallied them on their " folly of the Cross." On Palm Sunday, as he was blessing the palms, he told them his hour was come, and a few days afterwards he was betrayed and taken; but one of the gaolers, being a Catholic, managed to convey into the prison the altarstone, chalice, a corporal, and the missal. One or two others brought him the habit, cowl, and cord, which he put on under his Japanese dress. He was condemned to worse than death— imprisonment with many others in a kind of cage, where they could neither stand up or lie at length. There he remained in unspeakable horrors for one whole year. In 1616, Daifousama died, leaving the empire to his son Hidetada, and enjoining on him to drive every Christian from Japan. The whole rage of Satan and his ministers seemed now to break loose upon the devoted Christians. Every day, and in all places, martyrs went to receive their crown, and the tortures and diabolical inventions for adding pain to pain became too dreadful to record. Men, women, and even children of a year old, were alike burnt, maimed, hacked in morsels, and thrown in heaps into pits. In 1619, fifty-two Christians were martyred at Meaco in one day, opposite the great idol temple, and in sight of the city. The crosses for the men were raised in a circle and surrounded with faggots of wood; the women and children were in the middle. The sufferers were paraded through the streets bound in carts, a crier going before and declaring that the Emperor had commanded them to be burnt as Christians. The prisoners all responded, "Yes, it is true we are going to die for Jesus— Live Jesus ! " Here again, we are refreshed by the aspect of the brave and noble women and children thronging the centre of this arena of death, and while reading their names and ages, we cannot but cry : Salvetc flores martyrum !—Magdalene with her little Regina of two years old, Mary with a Monica of four, Martha with a Benedict of two. Mencia had three children, the eldest only eight years old and blind ; Thecla brought five little ones to the sacrifice, three of whom were tied to her own cross. This touching scene, which was afterwards to be repeated on a grander scale, was ended with unabated constancy; and when the flames burst forth and rose higher and higher, surrounding the martyrs with a huge arch of fire, these mothers were still seen clasping their children to their breasts, and encouraging them with caresses to die for Jesus without uttering a word. At the same time a Japanese noble, Balthazar, under sentence as a Christian, being respectfully asked "where his lordship wished to die," replied that Christ his Saviour died outside Jerusalem between two thieves and he desired to be treated in the same manner. At the threshold his wife and daughter stopped him and brought water to wash his feet, as a sign of their reverence and joy, and then his little son of four years old knelt down and begged him to take him also to be martyred. He and the child were accordingly put to death. " In these days," says a Jesuit Missionary, " we can no longer count our colleges and houses, but our gaols and prisoners." Among these last was the aged lay-brother, Ambrose Fernandez, who sank under the horrors of the " cage " at Omoura, in which Father Spinola, also a prisoner, gave him the Viaticum by the light of a soldier's fusee, and after he had expired, the other prisoners sang Landate Dominum omnes gentes in thanksgiving; but as their biographer remarks, the record of these deaths at this time is like nothing but the verses of a martyrology. In the jaws of death, like the honeycomb in the carcase of the lion, a divine sweetness, and the life of grace—deep calling to deep—flooded these heroic souls with heavenly joy. " I always felt," says Father Spinola, "as if our Lord were waiting for me at the door." When Father Christopher* Ferreyra came to Firando, weak, fragile, almost transparent as he was in his extreme delicacy of health, but gifted with extraordinary powers and a devotion which entirely overcame every natural difficulty, the Firandans received him as a kind of guardian angel. Having laboured during the day at other things, he spent the nights on the sea-shore, hearing the confessions of the crowds who came to him in the darkness, to receive once more the cleansing grace of absolution and the .vords which strengthened them to persevere to the end. To the end—which now rapidly approached. For a long time, from man)- causes externally human, but providentially arranged, the Fmperor had been kept in ignorance of the re-entrance and successful labours of the exiled Missionaries for their religion, but in 1622 he became aware, as many other sovereigns have had to learn, that in spite of his edicts and persecutions, the Catholic Church still lived and witnessed in Japan. His fury then burst all bounds, and he issued stringent commands that all the Christian prisoners should be put to a cruel death by torture, and that those who harboured Christians should be beheaded. On Assumption Eve that year, perceiving what must occur, a Dominican Priest disguised himself as a gaoler, and went to hear the confessions of all the prisoners at Nangasaki, who spent the night in penance and prayer. The place of execution was already prepared, and it was one worthy of the terrible but magnificent drama to be enacted upon it. It was a high table-land stretching out from the mountain* Or ChristovaL chain far into the sea, towards which a promontory fell suddenly down ; and being fully within sight of the city, the hills, and the sea, any number of eye-witnesses could be gathered to the spectacle. Here were erected the crosses, the gibbets, the furnaces, and the stakes, upon which the first-fruits and the last gleanings of what is justly called "the great martyrdom" were to fulfil their glorious course. Some way from the stakes, the faggots and fascines were piled up, and round the whole a stockade was erected like the lists of a tournament or mortal combat of former days. The first victims were the Fathers Flores and Zuniga, and the captain and sailors of the ship that brought them. The two Missionaries spoke eloquently before the Governor, and quite put him to shame by the joy they expressed at suffering for Christ. One of them used these words, which we may look upon as prophetic for times yet to come—" The more Missionaries you slay, so many more will come from Europe to preach the Gospel; the more Christians perish under your tortures so many the more neophytes will be multiplied; and the blood you shed shall be as seed to spring up and multiply in years to come." It was about nine o'clock in the morning, the "third hour" of the Passion, when a mighty voice intoning the Magnificat announced that the procession had left the hall of justice, and was slowly going up "the Holy Mountain" where they were to suffer. This was the voice of the Christian multitude gathered to witness the death-offering of the martyrs. It would not be well, it would scarcely be possible, to relate the details of this awful scene, nor have we time to linger over what, though full of dread and horror, is still filled to overflowing with beauty and joy. Nearly a month elapsed between the burning of the first Fathers and the final "great martyrdom," in which over two hundred victims suffered. In this, as at Meaco, the crosses were ranged in a kind of semicircle on the outside, the women and children occupied the centre, and the piles of wood and fascines, smeared with clay to slack the action of the fire and add to the tortures, were heaped around all. On a kind of platform, covered with rich crimson carpets and cloth of gold, sat the Lieutenant-Governor of Nangasaki surrounded by all the rank and dignity of the city ; while far off, covering the mountain-spurs, the shore, and the sea, were a vast multitude, praying, and singing psalms and hymns, to cheer and encourage the sufferers in the fire. The multitude is variously stated to have been between 20,000 ami 100,000 in number. When the Priests who were prisoners of Omoura met those of Nangasaki they first heard one another's confessions, and then intoned psalms of thanksgiving. When these were bound to their stakes, the brave women who had so often sheltered and ministered to them bowed their heads and greeted them with joy. Among those to be specially remembered are Lucia, tertiary of St. Francis, whose most eloquent words encouraged all her companions ; Maria Mourayama, who that day put off her widow's weeds, and went out to die clad in white velvet and gold, which so set off her radiant beauty, that the populace loudly cried out she was an angel; Isabel Fernandez Jorge, in whose house Father Spinola had many times found a refuge and a home. When he, bound to his stake, perceived her nearly in front of him, but a little turned sideways, he gave her his blessing, and said to her: "My child, where is my little Ignatius?" "Here, Father," she replied with a bright smile, and taking hold of the child, then four years old, who was kneeling on her further side, she lifted him up in her arms and said : " Look, there is Father Charles, ask him to give you his blessing." Ignatius turned his beaming eyes towards the much-loved Father who had baptised him, and lifting up his little joined hands, asked as usual for a blessing, the last in this world. When the fires were lit, and the smoke and flames rose high, scorching and stifling, but not killing the sufferers, and the executioners were busied in beheading the inner circle who were permitted that more merciful release, there came echoing from the hills and the plain below, and from the sea, the sweet strains of the Laudate Pueri and the Laiidate Dominant, while children's voices innumerable, long trained in singing from house to house, poured forth such triumphant melodies, that it seemed to the martyrs as if the gates of Heaven were opened, and the hosts of Angels already rejoicing in their victory. For two hours their agony lasted ; and then the surrounding Christians knew that for them the " eternal years" of rest had begun. We would fain follow out this Japanese martyrology to the full, but space fails us, and we can but advert to the prisoners of Chimabara and one other sadder incident, and hasten to the end.
Among these prisoners was another child-martyr Ignatius, who smiled when his hands were mutilated, and suffered without a murmur the slow drowning which was a favourite torture of the Japanese when more merifully disposed. The larger portion of prisoners was reserved for more dreadful sufferings, and having been all maimed of one, two, or more fingers, they were driven in this bleeding condition up to the steep crater of Mount Oungen, (now known as Mount Unzen ) there to be plunged in what was called the Hell Mouth, a deep boiling pool of fetid, sulphureous water. 
Looking down from this noble mountain-top upon the broad sunny plain, teeming with fertility, bright with colour, and full of the beauty of early morning, the servants of God may perchance have been tempted by the Evil One as he tempted their Lord : "All these will I give Thee, if falling down Thou wilt adore me." If so, the temptation found no response. The kingdoms of this world and the glory of them were indeed a vain shadow to the eyes now fixed upon the eternal weight of glory laid up for the conquerors; and again that psalm, which may with truth be called the battle-cry of Japan—Laudate Dominion oniries gentes—pierced the morning air, and sealed their profession of faith. The martyr who intoned it, Paul Outchibori—the most cruelly tortured and the last to die—went down into the gulf exclaiming : " Praised and blessed for ever be the Rlessed Sacrament!" and thus also uttered the last sounds of faith and victory. It is not possible, it would not be credible, that this magnificent Christian warfare should have been fought out without some defeat, or that the picture so vividly drawn for us by its chroniclers should be coloured without shade. The lessons conveyed by it would fail of their full teaching and effect, if the fearful one of falling away had been omitted.
About ten years after the great martyrdom, that same Father Christoval Ferreyra, already mentioned, who had spent thirty-seven years in the Society, and twenty-three in the East, where his labours, watchful care of the missions, and heroic zeal, had equalled and closely resembled those of Father Valignani, was seized with ten or a dozen others, and condemned to the fiendish cruelties of the fosse or pit.* Father Ferreyra endured the torture for five hours, and then, through some as yet hidden cause, grace failing to sustain nature, he denied his God, and was released amid the exulting shouts of the heathen, and the bitter tears of his own brethren. 
That had come to pass, which St. Paul so clearly discerned when he said, that after having preached to others, he might himself become a castaway. By the failure of  The sufferers were lowered head downwards into a deep Iiit, crushed between planks. They bled slowly, and sometimes lived in unspeakable agony for four or five days. so distinguished a soldier of the faith, we may measure alike the nothingness of all human strength and courage, and the power of grace which supported so many thousands under the like trials. But the power of grace was to be still more wonderfully shown by the recovery of this crown, as it seemed, so hopelessly lost . That same year, 1633, far away from Asia and Japan, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was being celebrated with great splendour in Cardinal Brancaccio's palace at Naples, where vast erections for lights and rich curtains were raised even to the roof. In taking down these, a heavy beam chanced to fall upon the head of a Jesuit Priest, whom circumstances had long marked out for some unusual career. His father, the Marquis San Marzano, was a noble of Nola, and his mother, a Caracciolo, was also of the most illustrious Italian blood. They had both earnestly besought the intercession of the Blessed Virgin for children, and when the little Marcello Francesco was baptised he was also offered to God and promised to the Society of Jesus. From childhood Marcello Mastrilli was accustomed by his parents to serve the sick poor as well as to give abundant alms, and from infancy his most earnest desire was to offer his life to God. At fourteen he knew himself to be called to the religious state, but as his father, naturally enough, opposed the idea, and wished to defer his going to a future day, young Mastrilli fled from his home, and took refuge in the Novitiate at Naples. Finding that his son's convictions and maturity of mind far outstripped his years, the Marquis consented to his entering the Society, where he soon gave evidence of extraordinary virtue and spiritual progress.
He chose St . Eustace and St. Francis Xavier* as his patrons, and continually prayed to be sent on the Asiatic missions. For eight years however he was detained among the younger collegians, whose unlimited resources of teasing and persecution never brought out even an impatient word. Mastrilli was accustomed to wear a figure of our crucified Lord with the nails pressed into his breast, saying that his sins were the fitting cross to bear his Saviour. 
St. Francis Xavier frequently appeared to him, offering him a pilgrim's staff and a lighted taper, and signifying that the staff implied India, and the taper death by sickness, desired him to choose between them. Mastrilli always answered by saying, " I choose that which God wills." He had been fifteen years in the Society when he was struck at Naples by the falling beam, * Xot then canonised. and was carried away bleeding and unconscious. Brain-fever and delirium succeeded, and it was declared that his recovery was impossible. While, however, apparently unconscious to his attendants, Father Mastrilli received several manifestations from his patron, who appeared clothed in white with a crimson cross on his breast, and said to him : " Oh! Marcello, tell me what you wish for, and remember that I am not now powerless in Heaven." Father Mastrilli replied, as usual, that his only wish was to do God's will. At the same time he asked St. Francis if those in white, whom he saw about him, were Japanese martyrs ? The Saint only replied : " They are thy friends, and pray for thee." Meanwhile death drew nearer and nearer, and the Provincial, Father de Sangro, came to visit and bid him farewell. Father Mastrilli then asked permission to offer himself by vow for the Indian missions, for which leave was given, and begged that a famous picture of St. Francis Xavier, which had proved miraculous, might be brought to his bedside. He was then anointed, but could not receive the Viaticum as he was unable to swallow. Grieving very much at this deprivation, Father Mastrilli invoked St . Francis, and placed some relic of him upon his throat, after which he received Communion with ease. On the evening of that day he head a voice calling to him : " Marcello ! Marcello ! " and saw St. Francis in a pilgrim's dress, radiant and beautiful, who desired him to repeat his vow, and said: " 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: " that grace which Thy servant Francis Xavier, the Apostle of the Indies, could not obtain after so many labours." 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 Father Ferreyra's apostacy reached Europe, there was nothing but one imploring supplication to the General of the Jesuits from his subjects to be sent to Japan, to expiate by martyrdom the falling away of their brother. Father Mastrilli was the foremost of these petitioners. When he went for permission the General replied: " You need scarcely ask me for leave when St. Francis himself has given it to you." He was made Superior of the band of twenty-three Fathers who went out; and after a long and dangerous voyage, during which the invocation of St . Francis Xavier preserved them from many dangers, they landed at Goa. Here the renown of Father Mastrilli's cure made every one wish to retain him for that province, but nothing could restrain his apostolic zeal and thirst for martyrdom. He was allowed to open the shrine of St. Francis, and invest the Saint's body with the magnificent jewelled chasuble sent out by the Queen of Spain, and was also permitted by the Provincial to take away for himself a handkerchief stained with blood, and a box containing a portion of the body, leaving also in the Saint's hand a letter to himself. Father Mastrilli hastened on to Macao and Manilla, where the Governor of the Philippine Islands also wished to keep him, and would scarcely let him go on his way. The affection he awakened in every one who knew him reminds us of that conceived for his beloved patron, St. Francis Xavier, who made himself master of all hearts. After accompanying this Christian Governor, Don Sebastian Hurtado, on an expedition against the cruel pirates of the Malay Archipelago, routing them through the power of St. Francis Xavier's name, and performing many other miraculous works, Father Mastrilli finally reached the goal of all his desires, and landed at Satzouma in Japan. The few timid and spiritless Christians whose bark had just touched the shores and put off again, soon betrayed his coming, for the long course of terrible sufferings had exhausted their faith and courage, and Father Mastrilli was found, after a brief search, praying in a thicket with his arms in the form of a cross, and much weakened by hunger. His face appeared so beautiful, and so shining with heavenly light, that the soldiers were about to adore him as a god, when he said gently : " Come, my children, and take me." They then approached and bound his hands with great reverence. As they did so the earth beneath them visibly trembled. Father Mastrilli was then carried by a guard of two hundred soldiers to Nangasaki, and in that former centre of so much faith, so many virtues, and so great a crowd of penitents and martyrs, he was examined, condemned, and sentenced to the double torture of water and the ladder.* During this trial all those present saw a bright light surrounding his head, and after shameless and terrible torture he fell into ecstasy, and was raised into the air shining with glory. During this time he repeated several times our Lord's words: Spiritus eriim * With the head downwards as in the fosse. promptus est, caro avian infirma, and prophesied that he should be tortured in the fosse, but slain by beheading.
Closely shaven and daubed with red ochre—the Japanese sign of infamy— gagged, and chained hand and foot on horseback, Father Mastrilli, a spectacle to men and Angels, was carried triumphantly through Nangasaki, and plunged into the fosse. There he again fell into ecstasy, and remained alive for four days with his blood in the ordinary normal state. 
The Governor finding after repeated inspections that he was living and unchanged, ordered him, as a great festival was approaching, to be beheaded; and thus was fulfilled his own prophecy as to the manner of his death. At the third stroke, 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, that not a relic might remain. 
But if we should incline to grieve over this brief close to a mission sought with so much earnest prayer, won after such labourious preparation, and upon which such a wealth of virtue, and knowledge, and spiritual victory, and hourly sacrifice, had been bestowed, we too should be convicted of our " little faith." Father Mastrilli's apostolate, though not for Japan, was fulfilled. Sixteen years later, Christoval Ferreyra, then in extreme old age and suffering under sickness, received the grace of conversion, and declared his readiness to die for the faith which he had once lacked the courage to profess in the face of death. His desire was granted, and he expired under the punishment of the fosse, having borne for three days those same tortures under five hours' experience of which his constancy had before given way.
Link (here) to the Month the article is entitled, Japanese Sketches 


1 comment:

Frank Carroll said...

Mr. Fromm,

Thank you for this great entry on Fr. Mastrilli. I am currently editing a brief history of Fr. Masrilli's life for my parish's 90th Annual Novena of Grace. I was hoping you could send me an email at so I could ask you a few questions about him.


Frank Carroll