Friar Gonsalo Gracia: The Indian Franciscan Martyr Saint

By Fr Joy Prakash, OFM –

Fr. Joy Prakash, OFM

Gonsalo Gracia was born of a Portuguese father and a Canarese mother (Konkani-speaking) in Bassein, (Maharastra) East India, about the year 1556 or 1557.  His early training was entrusted to the Jesuits, who brought him up in their college in Bassein Fort. At the age of twenty-four or twenty-five he went to Japan in the company of some Jesuit Fathers who were ordered, in 1580, to join their mission in Japan. He quickly acquired a knowledge of the language; he won the hearts of the people and did great service as a catechist for eight years.

He then left this kind of work and betook himself to Alacao for trading purposes. His business soon flourished and branches were opened in different places. During his frequent visits to Manila he came into contact with the Franciscans, and being drawn more and more towards them he finally joined the Seraphic Order of St. Francis of Assisi as a lay brother. He sailed from the Philippine Islands with other companions in religion under Peter Baptista, 26 May, 1592, on an embassy from the Spanish Governor to the Emperor of Japan.

In Japan, Gonsalo Garcia became the center of attraction as he knew Japanese language well. He was the official member of Spanish translator of Fr. Peter Baptista. After facing some initial difficulties the Franciscans settled in Japan and began their missionary work in Kyoto, Osaka, etc. The Japanese shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was very friendly with these Franciscans. It was a time when Jesuits were facing lot of opposition in Japan. The people of Japan appreciated the simple way of living adopted by these Franciscan missionaries. It helped them to accelerate their conversion program. Many Japanese, including their landlords accepted the Christian religion. Slowly Japan became the great center of evangelization for the Franciscan missionaries.

After working zealously for the glory of God for more than four years, the Emperor Taiko-Sama, suspecting the missionaries were aiming at the overthrow of his throne, ordered St. Garcia and his companions to be guarded in their Convent at Miaco on 8 December, 1596. A few days afterwards, when they were singing vespers, they were apprehended and with their hands tied behind their backs were taken to prison.

On 3 January, 1597, the extremities of the left ears of twenty-six confessors, St. Garcia amongst the number, were cut off; but were with great respect these were collected by the Christians. On 5 February of the same year, the day of the martyrdom, St. Garcia was the first to be nailed to the cross, which was then erected in the middle of those of his companions. Two lances piercing the body from one side to the other and passing through the heart, whilst the saint was singing the praises of God during the infliction of the torture, put an end to his sufferings and won for Garcia the martyr’s crown.

In 1627 these twenty-six servants of God were declared venerable by Urban VIII; their feast occurs on 5 February, the anniversary of their sufferings; and in 1629 their veneration was permitted throughout the Universal Church. The people of Bassein practiced devotion towards the saint; after the severe persecution to which Christianity was subjected in that region, from about 1739 he was gradually entirely forgotten until a well-known writer recently undertook to write the history of the place, and drew the attention of the public to St. Garcia Gonsalo. Owing to the praiseworthy endeavors of a secular priest, and the great interest evinced by the Bishop of Damaun in the promotion of the devotion towards the saint, the feast of St. Garcia is now annually celebrated with great solemnity; and pilgrims from all parts of Bassein, Salsette, and Bombay flock to the place on that occasion.

Major shrines: St. Gonsalo Garcia Church, Gass, Vasai, India

 

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