Blessed Francisco Pacheco

Blessed Francisco Pacheco

Francisco Pacheco


  • Death: 06/20/1626
  • Nationality (place of birth): Portugal

Francisco Pacheco (1566-1626) was provincial superior and one of the most experienced of the Jesuit missionaries in Japan; his arrest was a serious loss to the Christian community struggling to survive the great persecution. He had returned to Japan one year after being banished with other foreign missionaries in 1614 and managed to sustain many people in their faith. When he was betrayed by someone who had given him shelter, two other Jesuits and two catechists were arrested with him.

Pacheco was born in Portugal and dreamed of imitating the missionaries in Japan whose exploits he heard about as a young man. He regularly watched the Jesuit missionaries departing from the Jesuit school in Lisbon where he studied. He entered the Society of Jesus in December 1585 and set out himself for Goa, India in 1592. He continued his Jesuit studies there and then finished them in Macao where he was ordained. After teaching theology in Macao, he finally went to Japan in 1604. For the first four years he worked in Osaka and Miyako, which was the capital and is now Kyoto. He had to return to Macao in 1608 to direct the Jesuit college there but was able to return to Japan four years later and was named vicar general to Bishop Luís de Cerquiera, a position he held until he was expelled in 1614.

The missionary secretly returned in June 1615, disguised as a merchant; he worked at Takaku and the islands of Amakusa and Kani. Many people gave up their Christian faith under the pressure of the fierce persecution, but hundreds gave up their lives rather than lose their religion. Pacheco became apostolic administrator of the diocese when the bishop died and then was named provincial superior of the Jesuits in 1621. He moved to the seaport of Kuchinotsu in Arima so he could more easily travel to visit Jesuits.

Pressure to capture Jesuit missionaries intensified in 1625 when the Shogun Iyemitsu added more spies. However, a former friend and not a spy led to his capture. An apostate Christian revealed his location to the district governor who sent 200 soldiers on Dec. 18, 1625, to surround the house where Pacheco was staying. With him they found two catechists, Paul Xinsuke and Peter Rinscei; next door Brother Gaspar Sadamatsu and another catechist Ioannes Kisaku were also arrested, along with the families who were giving them shelter. The whole group was taken to Shimabara and placed in a cold, damp dungeon. Father Giambattista Zola and his catechist, Vicente Caun, joined the other prisoners in jail a few days later.

Throughout that winter, the prisoners lived as a religious community, with a set schedule that included prayer and fasting. They wanted to prepare themselves spiritually for the death they knew awaited them. The catechists were accepted into the Society during these months in prison. However, they were not able to celebrate Mass or even pray the rosary or the breviary since everything had been taken from them. Finally, the district governor returned from visiting the shogun and brought orders to put the prisoners to death. The prisoners at Shimabara and two others from Omura, the Jesuit Father Balthasar de Torres and his catechist Miguel Tozó, met at Martyrs' Hill just outside Nagasaki on June 20. The Jesuits rejoiced to see each other again. The governor tied the nine Jesuits to stakes but ordered a large amount of firewood to be put around each man so that he would die quickly, rather than the normal custom of the ""slow fire"" which the governor considered fitting for criminals but not for men dying for their beliefs. Within 15 minutes all the Jesuits had died. The governor forced the lay people to watch their deaths in the hope that fear would change their minds; he was wrong so they were taken back to prison and then martyred on July 12.

Martyres in Japan

Originally Collected and edited by: Tom Rochford, SJ