Saturday, December 6, 2008

"The man who would not give in": Blessed Peter Kibe, SJ

I first heard about Pedro Kibe during GC 35. One of the delegates from Japan, the 42-year old Argentianian Jesuit Renzo de Luca, who is director of the Shrine of the Japanese Martyrs in Nagasaki, shared Kibe’s amazing story during a homily. 

Last November 24, 2008, in the presence of a crowd of 30,000, Pedro Kibe, a Jesuit priest who was martyred in 1639, was beatified, along with 187 other Japanese martyrs, among them, three other Jesuits. It was Kibe’s name, however, that was chosen to lead the group of martyrs; and I was happy to read in the accounts of the beatification that the ceremonies began with my friend Renzo carrying the relics of Pedro Kibe to the altar. I can only imagine how happy he was.

Who was Pedro Kibe? He was born in 1587, in what is now the Oita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. At the age of 14, he studied under the Jesuits and learned Japanese, Latin and religion. By the time he was 19, he had become a 
dojoku, a lay catechist who accompanied the Jesuits in their missions. He felt in his heart, however, that God was calling him to become a Jesuit priest. What he endured in order to fulfill what he believed was his vocation is truly astounding.

In 1614, when he was 27 years old, he was expelled from Japan along with 115 Portuguese Jesuits, Japanese priests, seminarians, and 
dojoku. In Macau, he continued his studies, but was not admitted to the Society. Instead of giving up, in 1617, he took a ship to Goa, the site of Francis Xavier’s first Asian mission, to seek admission there, only to be refused again. 

Undeterred, he decided to do the impossible. He would go to Rome to ask the Jesuit General himself. Traveling along the paths of the famed Silk Road, he went 
by foot, through India and Pakistan, through Persia and Arabia, finally arriving in Jerusalem two years later, in 1619. (He was thus the first Japanese to ever visit the Holy Land.) From there, he was finally able to board a ship for Venice, and arrived in Rome in May of 1620.

The General was impressed by Kibe’s astonishing determination and fortitude, and arranged, first for his ordination, on November 15, 1620, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and secondly, for his admission to the Society of Jesus. On November 20, 1620, at the age of 33, Kibe entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Sant’Andrea al Quiranale. Kibe was fortunate to be in Rome to witness the canonization of St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier, on March 12, 1622.

It took years for Kibe to reach Rome and enter the Society. It would take years again for him to return to Japan. In 1623, in the company of other Jesuits, he left Lisbon to return to Goa. His goal was to return to Japan, to provide spiritual encouragement to the beleaguered Japanese Christians. It took him seven years of traveling around Southeast Asia before he could find a way to return. From Goa, he went to Macau, then to Thailand, and finally, in 1629, ended up in Manila.

In Manila, along with another Japanese priest, he was able to make arrangements for a termite-ridden sailboat to make the dangerous trip to Japan. Aware of the perils involved in traveling in such an untrustworthy vessel, Kibe decided to entrust himself to divine Providence. Leaving Manila finally in May of 1630, Kibe’s boat found itself caught in a violent typhoon, which ultimately destroyed the vessel. Kibe and his companion priest only survived because they were rescued by natives of Southern Kyushu.

From there, Kibe, finally in Japan after seven years, walked to Nagasaki, where he found, to his dismay and sadness, that the persecution of Japanese Christians had become more intense and violent in the years of his absence. Three years later, in 1633, Kibe moved to an area north of Tokyo, where he ministered to the suffering Christians for six years.

Finally , on March 17, 1639, Kibe was arrested along with two other Jesuit priests, Frs. Porro and Shikimi. They were sent to Edo (Tokyo), and met there by the prize of the Japanese persecutors: the former Jesuit Provincial Cristobal Ferreira, who had apostasized while in the pit, under the cruel handling of the master inquisitor and torturer Inoue. Ferreira tried to persuade Kibe and his companions to apostasize. Eventually, unable to bear the rigors of the pit (the same torture Lorenzo Ruiz had to endure, in which one is hung upside down in a pit of excrement, with one’s face cut to prolong the agony), Frs. Porro and Shikima apostasized.

Showing the same kind of tenacity and perseverance that marked his whole life, however, Pedro Kibe refused to deny his faith. Finally, his persecutors, frustrated by what they saw as his obstinacy, removed him from the pit and killed him. Accounts of his death differ: one Portuguese account describes how red-hot metals were applied to his body till he died; another account speaks of wood piled on his bare stomach and set afire there; still another account speaks of his being disemboweled by his torturers. He died in July, 1639, 52 years old, 19 years a priest and Jesuit.

Inoue, the chief torturer, sent back the best account of Kibe: Kibe, he wrote the Shogun, was “the man who would not say, ‘I give in.’”

There is a Greek word found often in the New Testament. The word is 
hupomonē. It is difficult to translate. Some translate it as “patient endurance” or “fortitude” or “strength to persevere.” In Filipino, we might say hupomonē is pagtiyatiyaga, pananatiling tapat sa gitna ng kahirapan at mga pagsubok. It is the virtue of staying the course, of not giving up even when one is discouraged or tired, of continuing the journey, even if it means just putting one weary foot in front of the other. 

When I think of Kibe—of his amazing three-year trek across the Silk Road, his seven-year search through Asia for a way to return to Japan, his six years of dangerous ministry in Sendai, his ten days of cruel torture—I think of the word 
hupomonē. And I remember that the secret of hupomonē in the New Testament is a secret that anyone who cares for someone else understands: for those you love, you are willing to endure difficulty; and if your love is deep, you are willing to endure anything.

A constant theme of Fr. General in his talks and letters is the spiritual depth Jesuits today need. I know all too well, from my own life, what the fruit of superficiality in love and faith is: a tendency to complain too often, to be discouraged too easily, and to give up too quickly. This Advent then, Kibe is an inspiration and invitation to pray for a share of the depth of love, the intensity of passion for Christ, that makes fortitude and perseverance in the face of life's difficulties possible.

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