Tag Archives: Japan

St. Lorenzo Ruiz and the Nagasaki Martyrs

September 25, 2020

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Between 1633 and 1637 sixteen Christians were martyred for their faith in Nagasaki, Japan. All sixteen were related to the Dominican Order in some way: nine Dominican priests, two Dominican brothers, two consecrated virgins, and three Dominican tertiaries, lay persons who belong to the Third Order of St. Dominic. They belonged to five different nationalities: nine were Japanese, four Spaniards, one Frenchman, one Italian, and one Filipino, St. Lorenzo Ruiz.

St. Lorenzo Ruiz (1600-1637), also known in English as St. Lawrence Ruiz, is named first on the list of sixteen, even though a lay person, because he is the protomartyr or the first martyr from the Philippines. He was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in Manila on October 18, 1987 and is the patron saint of both the Philippines and the Filipino people. Numerous miracles have been attributed through his intercession and there is a widespread devotion to him among Filipinos.

St. Lorenzo Ruiz was born in Manila in 1600 to a Chinese father and a Filipino mother. His family lived in Binondo, the Chinese section of Manila. Young Lorenzo was raised in the faith by his parents, both who were Christians. He became fluent in three languages, Chinese from his father, Tagalog from his mother, and Spanish from the Dominican friars who were his schoolteachers. As a youth, he was a sacristan and altar server at his parish, and because of his close association with the Dominicans, he became a member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, a society with a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother Mary and St. Dominic. They are passionate advocates for the value of the Rosary. He was married and the father of three children, two sons and one daughter.

His life took a dramatic turn for the worse when he was falsely accused of a murder. He learned that some Dominican priests were about to set sail, Spanish Fathers Antonio Gonzalez, Guillermo Courtet, and Miguel de Aozaraza; Japanese Father Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz; and a layman, Lazaro. He asked to join them to flee the country. He learned only after they had departed that they were headed to Japan where a severe persecution was underway under the regime of the cruel anti-Christian ruler Tokugawa Yemitsu.

Shortly after their arrival in Japan, he and the others were apprehended and forcibly transported to Nagasaki. Christians were ordered to trample upon an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, and if they refused, they were subjected to heartless torture. Bamboo needles were inserted under their fingernails. They were made to drink large amounts of water, made to lie on their backs, a board was placed over their stomachs, guards stomped on the boards, and water gushed through their mouths, noses, and ears.

St. Lorenzo Ruiz was called before the Japanese magistrates. They demanded that he renounce his faith. He vacillated momentarily and asked, “If I apostatize, will you spare my life?” His question was met with silence. He paused, prayed, and with amazing courage replied defiantly, “I am a Christian. I shall die for God, and for him I would give many thousands of lives. So do with me as you please.” He, Lazaro, and the three priests were hung upside down over a burning pit. After being suspended for three days, he and Lazaro died. The three priests were still alive and subsequently beheaded. All five gave their lives for Christ on September 28, 1637.

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Can’t get enough of WWII history?

April 12, 2010

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pacific cover

“The Pacific: Hell Was an Ocean Away,”

by Hugh Ambrose

Whether you love reading about the Second World War because you lived through it — or like me — you feel you were born too late and missed it, you’ll sate your appetite for a good long while reading “The Pacific.”

It’s the companion book to the HBO miniseries, sharing some content with the video version. It’s also the untold half of the war from “Band of Brothers,” which covered the European Theater of Operations in a similar way.

“The Pacific,” too, tells its story through the lives of a handful of men who served in several branches of the U.S. armed forces, and most of those pretty much the full length of the war.

From Pearl Harbor to the acceptance of the surrender of the Japanese and beyond, this is an exactly researched collection of not just battle stories but human stories gathered often from first-person material: diaries kept by the combatants themselves and letters they wrote back home that were saved and cherished.

War’s brutality never hidden

Reading what happened to marines abandoned by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines, how other marines survived suicide attacks as they fought from Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, among other island invasions, you can’t help but admire and be grateful for the sacrifices made by thousands and thousands.

“The Pacific” takes readers inside the minds of frightened naval aviators who had never landed on an aircraft carrier but had to not only do that but attack Japanese navy ships and airfields while flying through flak and fighting off enemy planes. These people were truly amazing.

Their stories are told straight. “The Pacific” doesn’t leave out facts like the number of men who left the battlefields frightened into shell shock by the non-stop bombing and the horror of the bodies of their fellow marines blown apart. The number of instances of Japanese brutality to those they captured winds up turning U.S. forces into revenge and brutality in kind.

No sugar-coating here

While the strategies of war that are successful are noted, so are the errors that needlessly cost lives. The flyers tell of poorly designed aircraft and poorly planned assignments. Marines point to ill-advised attacks, weak officers and lines of communication so bad officers are writing notes to their troops on scraps of papers that runners have to deliver.

The U.S. Marines’ disregard for soldiers in the U.S. Army comes out clearly, especially their thoughts about the grandstanding of the Army’s MacArthur. The supreme commander’s flamboyant “return” to the Philippines — wading through the water to the peaceful beach — didn’t play well with either the marines he sacrificed as his forces fled to the safety of Australia in early 1942 or with the marines who hit beach after beach and left thousands of their buddies’ bodies in the sands and jungles of the islands they won back from the Japanese.

Author-historian Ambrose does a brilliant job of piecing the stories of his primarily five men into a readable flow that moves readers day-by-day, month-by-month and year-by-year through the war in the Pacific. You’ll feel you’ve come to know “Shifty” Shofner, “Manila John” Basilone, Gene “Sledgehammer” Sledge, Sid Phillips and Mike Micheel.

What some of these men did as warriors falls into the superhero category. Ambrose, thankfully, include a chapter titled “Legacies” in which he writes about the aftermath of the war, how it impacted his subjects and their lives after the war. While the bombing of the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki isn’t given the treatment that one might expect, it would not be a stretch to wonder how many lives — both Japanese and American — would have been lost had the U.S. been forced to invade and conquer mainland Japan as it did the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where the Japanese fought until the last soldier even when there was no hope of victory. This book will not end the debate about whether or not the dropping of the atomic bombs on the two Japanese cities was ethical.

More maps needed

What is missing from this book — and I hesitate to fault such a wonderful read and terrific history — are more maps. I would think few of his readers who aren’t WWII vets could find the Solomons or identify the islands that make up the Phillippines, and as the battles island hopped up toward mainland Japan I kept losing track of what was where.

For those who have seen or are watching the HBO version, Ambrose notes that the book differs from the video. Two of the characters the book features are absent from the miniseries, and one of the video’s central characters appears just briefly in the book. As the author explains, “While the book and the miniseries share a core story, they are different mediums. Each must do what it does best.”

As satisfying reading, “The Pacific” does its best very, very well. — bz

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