Peter Kasui Kibe, Priest and Martyr
Oita, Kyushu, 1587-Tokyo, July 4, 1639
He is called “The man who walked the globe,” because of his remarkable journey along the arduous Silk Road in the 16th century in his quest of ordination to the priesthood.
His statue stands in Oita, Kyushu, where he was born in 1587. His features are strong, with eyes fixed toward his one goal of becoming a priest to serve his God and church, and a determination etched on his face and in his stance. They convey the strength and conviction of a true man of God, who was willing to undergo all hardship and disappointment and years of waiting, only to end in final torture and martyrdom.
Christianity came to Japan with the arrival of St. Francis Xavier in 1549. Peter was born just 38 years later on the same island of Kyushu where Xavier had landed. His parents, Romano and Maria, were first generation converts.
The new faith spread rapidly. By 1568, there were 30,000 converts. By 1600, it had increased ten-fold to 300,000. But at the same time, there were persecutions.
Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1539-1598), who became the sole ruler of Japan after Oda Nobuhaga, looked with suspect at the new religion. He ordered the expulsion and even execution of missionaries and converts. It started in 1587.
Peter enrolled in the “seminario” of Arima at the age of 13. It was a Christian school founded by the Jesuits to teach religion, Latin and Japanese. After graduating six years later, he became a “dojuku,” a catechist and aide to the missionaries who had to cope with a new language and culture.
While on a mission to Nagasaki, he was arrested with several other Christians by the shogunate officials and deported to Macao, near present-day Hong Kong. It was 1614; Peter was 23 years old. He would see his country again only 16 years later. How would he realize his goal of becoming a priest?
First Japanese in the Holy Land
He tried the seminary in Macao, but he was refused ordination. In desperation he traveled to Goa, in India, where Xavier had established a Christian community and where later his remains were enshrined in the cathedral. But here also he found no doors open for his ordination.
In this way, the years passed. In sheer frustration and desperation, he decided to go to Rome. This was no small order, yet it was his last hope. So he undertook the arduous journey along the historic Silk Road. In 1617, at the age of 32, he walked from India to Pakistan, Persia and Arabia, over 2,000 miles of wilderness.
In 1619, he became the first Japanese to step foot in the Holy Land. From there it was easy to board a pilgrim ship to Rome.
In May, 1620, he was welcomed by the Jesuits there. Even without any letters of reference, he was able to complete his studies and was ordained on Nov. 15, 1620, at the age of 33. Five days later he was accepted into the Jesuit order. He was in Rome to witness the canonization of St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier on March 12, 1622.
Another 10 years would pass before Father Kibe could return to Japan. He spent two years in Rome and then traveled to Portugal seeking passage. He had to wait for months.
There were three failed attempts. Finally, in 1623, he set sail for home. But it was difficult to enter Japan because of the tight security. So Peter had to lay back in Southeast Asia. It was only in 1630 that he was able to land in a small boat.
He landed in Nagasaki, of all places, which was a hotbed of the ongoing persecution. His Jesuit superiors advised him to get away, go east and as far north as possible. Along the way, Peter ministered to Christians. He finally settled in the area of Sendai, north of Tokyo. He ministered in secret for nine years, enduring hardship, always in danger of being captured.
A dramatic historic encounter
Then one day he was betrayed by a poor Christian who was eager to get the reward money offered by the shogun. He was quickly taken to Tokyo for questioning.
Father Kibe’s life story would have ended here quietly, but for the fact of a dramatic historic encounter.
His questioner turned out to be none other than his former vice-provincial, Father Christovao Ferreira. Ferreira had renounced his faith under torture. It was Inoue Masashige, the infamous inquisitor general, who had broken Ferreira. And now he had sent his prized victim, Ferreira, to question and break Kibe.
Kibe faced both Ferreira and Inoue, who are at the heart of the well-known historic novel about the persecution of Christians in Japan, “Chinmoku” (Silence), by Shusaku Endo, Japan’s outstanding writer.
Ferreira tried hard to urge Father Kibe to renounce his faith and so save his life. But Kibe strongly resisted, and even urged Ferreira to return to the faith he had renounced. Court records show that after four failed interrogations, Ferreira had to step down. Inoue then arranged a special meeting of Shogun Iemitsu with Kibe and two other captured missionaries. But this also ended in failure.
So Kibe and the two others were subjected to torture — suspension in the pits. They were bound and hung head down in the pits for hours. While the two other missionaries eventually apostatized, Father Kibe did not. Even under great pain, he urged them to remain strong in their faith. In this way, Father Kibe died in Tokyo in July, 1639. He was 52, a priest for 19 years. His indictment read: “He ignored the edict of the shogun and he ministered to Christians.”
The site of his imprisonment has been preserved and is now a museum of the Tokyo martyrs. It is located not far from the cathedral. The site of execution is in another part of Tokyo.
Father Kibe had realized his dreams. He was ordained a priest after patiently weathering long and frustrating years of waiting. He was able to serve his God and country, his church and people for a short nine years. In the end he persevered in his faith amid cruel interrogations and torture.
The young man of dreams and determination proved himself in the crucible of persecution. He is a wonderful example for the present generation of Catholics, especially the youth.
Beatified by Pope Benedict, November 24, 2008 with 187 companions killed in Japan between 1603 and 1639.
Source: Hawaii Catholic Herald