Jul 4, 2012

The Martyrdom of Paulo Uchibori and His Children

A wave of harsh persecution took place in Japan in the early 1600's, during which many Christians were martyred.

On February 20, 1627, church leader Paulo Uchibori, his wife and three children were arrested for harboring missionaries.  On that day, Paulo and 37 other Christians were beaten, paraded naked through town and imprisoned in Shimabara Castle.

The following day, the Christians were tortured.  The government wanted to avoid making martyrs, but used the cruelest methods to force Christians to deny their faith.  One of the soldiers teased Paulo as he held a knife, saying, "How many of your children's fingers should we take?"  Paulo replied, "It is up to you."

The soldiers cut off all of the children's fingers except their thumbs and little fingers, saying Christians should have fewer fingers than an animal.  Paulo's two oldest children, Antoniao and Barutabazaru offered their fingers to the soldiers, without crying or showing pain.  The last child was Paulo's youngest, Ignatius, age five.  He also showed no pain as his fingers were cut off.  He raised his bleeding hands to the sky, offering them to God.  Those who were watching were surprised by what they saw and were deeply moved by the children's bravery.

Stained glass windows in Shimabara Catholic Church depict the torture and death of Paulo and his children.

The soldier then bound the hands and feet of 16 people including Paulo's children and threw them repeatedly into the ice-cold water of Shimabara Bay.  Still the Christians would not renounce their faith.  Antoniao's last words before he disappeared into the ocean were, "Father, we should thank God for giving us such a great blessing."

After his children were drowned, Paulo's face was branded with the three Japanese characters of the word "Christian."  He was thrown out on the streets with a sign on his kimono reading, "Punished for being a Christian.  It is forbidden to help this man or give him shelter."

A week after the martyrdom of his children, Paulo was sent up Mt. Unzen with 15 other Christians to experience "torture in the hells of the Unzen volcano."  Paulo was hung upside down and lowered into the boiling sulfur waters many times.  He prayed out loud each time, realizing he was part of the Body of Christ, "The Eucharist should be hallowed."  Finally, his body was thrown into the boiling spring.

The faith of Paulo and his children encourage us today.  We know that they, along with many other unnamed Japanese Christians, were welcomed into Jesus' presence and now wear robes of white.