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Asian Catholic Dioceses Directory

St. Gonsalo Garcia: First Indian missionary who embraced martyrdom in Japan

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Gonsalo Garcia was born on Feb. 5, 1556, to a Portuguese father and Indian mother of Konkani descent, at Agashi village at Bassein (now Vasai), near Mumbai city in western India. His father was a soldier stationed at Fort Bassein, a Portuguese fort. Gonsalo received his education under the Jesuits. While assisting at the Church of the Holy of Jesus at Bassein, he developed a friendship with Jesuit Father Sebastian Gonsalves, who eventually became his lifelong mentor and guide.

  • Name
    :
    Gonsalo Garcia: First Indian missionary who embraced martyrdom in Japan
  • Date of Birth
    :
    05 February 1556
  • Place of Birth
    :
    Vasai, Mumbai
  • Date of Death
    :
    05 February 1597
  • Place of Death
    :
    Nagasaki, Japan
  • Declared as Saint
    :
    08/06/1862
  • Declared as Blessed
    :
    14/09/1627
  • Name of the Diocese
    :

Gonsalo Garcia was born on Feb. 5, 1556, to a Portuguese father and Indian mother of Konkani descent, at Agashi village at Bassein (now Vasai), near Mumbai city in western India. His father was a soldier stationed at Fort Bassein, a Portuguese fort.

Gonsalo received his education under the Jesuits. While assisting at the Church of the Holy of Jesus at Bassein, he developed a friendship with Jesuit Father Sebastian Gonsalves, who eventually became his lifelong mentor and guide.

He studied grammar, philosophy, and history with the Jesuits, and at the age of 13, requested the Jesuits to allow him to be a missionary in Japan. He was refused based on the fact he was too young.

Two years later, Gonsalo joined the Jesuit missionaries to move to Japan. He learned Japanese and served as a catechist for eight years. He traveled to many places and thanks to his pleasant personality and fluency in Japanese, many became Christians.

Gonsalo had a desire to become a Jesuit, but it was not fulfilled as the Jesuits at that time did not accept natives to the order.

He then redirected his attention to becoming a successful merchant in Japan. He moved to Lacao city and flourished in his trade. He also became well acquainted with people from all walks of Japanese society.    

Despite the business success Gonsalo yearned to become a member of a religious order. During his visits to Manila, he became familiar with the Franciscan order. His request to join the order was accepted and he became a Franciscan lay brother.

As per the order of the King of Spain, the Spanish Governor in Manila selected Friar Pedro Bautista to lead a missionary delegation to Japan. Gonsalo was chosen as the translator for Bautista due to his extensive knowledge of Japanese.

The missionaries left for Japan in 1593 from Manila and started their work in Kyoto, Osaka. A local king, Taikosama, was friendly toward the missionaries and it helped missionaries to convert people from all ranks of Japanese society.

The success of Catholic missionaries didn’t go down well with the Buddhist priests. They first complained to the king against Franciscans, saying Buddhists were losing ground to the thriving Christian community. They urged the king to expel missionaries, but he refused as Christians were on good terms with the king.

However, an unprecedented event in 1596 completely reversed the situation. 

A strong storm forced a Spanish treasure ship, San Felipe, to anchor in Kyoto. The ship’s captain, Francisco de Olandia, boastfully told a local Japanese customs agent that the Spanish king had sent the missionaries to influence people to rebel against Taikosama and overthrow him. This baseless story enraged the king, and he ordered all missionaries in Japan to be arrested and executed.

The Franciscans along with Gonsalo were arrested on December 8, 1596, and sent to a prison with their hands tied behind their backs. They were sentenced to death. On January 5, 1597, they were ordered to walk on foot 600 miles from Kyoto to a hill outside of Nagasaki.

February 5, 1597, all 26 Christians were crucified one by one, and Gonsalo was the first.  Some of Gonsalo’s companions were so exhausted that they died within 30 minutes. The soldiers pierced the hearts of all crucified Christians to ensure their death.

Many of the Christians who had come to witness the execution broke the barriers and soaked their clothes with the blood of the martyrs. Some even collected the mud that was soaked in their blood.

The martyrdom of Christians in Nagasaki became the most tragic and historic event for Catholicism in Japan.

In 1627, Pope Urban VIII permitted the veneration of all 26 martyrs in Franciscan and Jesuit orders. In 1629, their veneration was permitted across the Universal Church.

On June 8, 1862, Pope Pius IX canonized Gonsalo Garcia and his co-martyrs making him the first Catholic saint of India and the Indian subcontinent.

Gonsalo Garcia the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vasai, and his feast day is jointly celebrated with the group of martyrs, on 6 February, when thousands of pilgrims from various parts of India flock to pray and pay homage to him.

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