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Asian Catholic Directory

St. Gonsalo Garcia: First Indian missionary martyred in Japan

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Gonsalo's martyrdom at Nagasaki with the other Christian missionaries is regarded as the most tragic and historic event for Catholicism in Japan

  • Name
    Gonsalo Garcia: First Indian missionary martyred 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
  • Declared as Blessed
  • Name of the Diocese

Gonsalo Garcia was born on Feb. 5, 1556 in Agashi village in western India's Vasai (formerly Bassein) area. His father was a Portuguese soldier stationed at Bassein Fort and his mother, a Konkani-speaking Indian.

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

Gonsalo studied under the Jesuits and at the age of 25, he traveled with the Jesuits to Japan as a missionary. He learned Japanese and served as a catechist for eight years.

Gonsalo wanted to become a Jesuit. But he could not as the Jesuits at that time did not accept natives into their society.

He then redirected his attention to doing business and became a successful merchant, well acquainted with people from all walks of Japanese society.

During his visit to Manila, he became familiar with the Franciscan order. He requested to join them and was accepted as a Franciscan lay brother.

When Franciscan Friar Pedro Bautista led a missionary delegation to Japan in 1593, Gonsalo was chosen as the translator.

They worked in Kyoto, Osaka and their success in converting people to the Catholic faith made some Buddhist priests upset. They appealed to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the feudal lord, and chief Imperial minister, to expel the missionaries. But Hideyoshi, who was friendly with Christians, refused to expel them.

However, an event in 1596 reversed the situation. 

A storm forced a Spanish treasure ship to anchor in Kyoto. Its captain Francisco de Olandia boastfully told a Japanese customs agent that the Spanish king had sent the missionaries to influence people to rebel against Emperor Go-Yōzei of Japan and overthrow him. This baseless story enraged the emperor, and he ordered all missionaries in Japan to be arrested and executed.

The Franciscans along with Gonsalo were arrested on December 8, 1596, jailed, and sentenced to death. On Jan. 5, 1597, they were ordered to walk on foot 600 miles from Kyoto to a hill outside of Nagasaki.

On Feb. 5, 1597, all 26 Christians were crucified one by one, and Gonsalo was the first.  The soldiers pierced the hearts of all crucified Christians to ensure their death.

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 Gonsalo the first Catholic saint of the Indian subcontinent.

The Diocese of Vasai has named Gonsalo its patron saint and his feast day is celebrated on Feb. 6, when thousands of pilgrims across India flock to pay homage to him.



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St Gonsalo's mother was a Marathi speaking native of Vasai and not konkani speaking. However very nice compilation on churches all over Asia.

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