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Lorenzo Ruiz

(1600—1637)


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Martyr and first Philipino canonized saint (1600–37).

His unique story combines human hesitation with final perseverance, culminating in canonization. He was born at Manila of a Chinese father and Philipino mother, was educated by Dominicans and served in the church of Binondo as a sacristan. As an adult he joined the confraternity of the Holy Rosary. He married, had two sons and one daughter. He was accused of involvement in a criminal case whose details are not known. Afraid of an unfavourable judgment, he decided to flee the Philippine islands with the Dominican missionary Fr. Antonio Gonzalez, who was on the way to Japan with his companions. With them Lorenzo was arrested at Okinawa and taken to Nagasaki as prisoner. Interrogated by a tribunal, he confessed he was a Christian and would give up his life a thousand times rather than renounce the faith. However, he later asked officials if his life would be spared if he denied Christ. The interpreter could not say but referred the request to officials. Meanwhile Lorenzo reconsidered and said: ‘What I said before, I spoke as an ignorant person, not knowing what to say. I am a Christian and I profess this belief. I did not come here to be a martyr, but because I could not remain in Manila. I now have to give up my life: do to me what you wish.’ He was condemned to repeated tortures of slow burning and being suspended upside-down over ‘the pit’ and was beheaded. He died on 27 September and his body was thrown into the sea. His courage and constancy were praised by contemporaries.

In all there were seventeen victims of this anti-Christian persecution under the emperor Tokugawa Yemitsu, which was neither the first nor the last in Japan. Among the martyrs five nationalities were represented: ten Japanese, four Spaniards, one French, and one Philipino. Nine of them were Dominican priests, two were lay brothers; two were Dominican/Augustinian nuns and two were laymen. Only Lorenzo was the father of a family: the other layman, Lazarus of Kyoto, was a Japanese leper.

In the first canonical enquiry of 1637 only the nine priests were included, but the beatification by Pope John Paul II at Manila in 1981 and the canonization in 1987 rightly included all the seventeen who suffered; the feast is now officially celebrated and recognized as that of Lorenzo Ruiz and companions, martyrs on 28 September. See also Japan, Martyrs of.

Positio super martyrio, Nagasaki, Macao et Manila (Rome 1980), esp. pp. xi–xiii, 371–9, 416; B.L.S. ix, 258–9

Subjects: Christianity.


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