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This Fiction Named Pedro Bautista

PEDRO BAUTISTA was a Franciscan missionary belonging to the Alcantarine Order, an austere line named after its founder San Pedro de Alcantara. He was also a friar responsible (if we are to believe the versions of the Colonizer) for the establishment of missions in the Laguna areas and some parts of what we now know as Kabikolan. Pedro Bautista is also that obscure statue fronting the black (after the dismal attempt to preserve its façade) Metropolitan Cathedral of Naga. I am not aware of any major celebration of this Franciscan saint but if there is a global link of Bikol to Japan, it should be Pedro Bautista. He was said to have roamed the places that are now labeled as towns in Albay and Camarines Sur, among other areas he was supposed to have visited or supervised as a Superior of a group of Franciscan friars. This passion of Pedro Bautista is generally viewed in a positive sense, with many of us forgetting that the Franciscans as with the other Orders who came all the way here from the Spanish peninsula and Mexico, were part of a monumental colonizing force. They came with their own God. As archives put it, he was in his 40s when he was assigned to the islands of the Philippines. He was said to be a persuasive speaker, a trait that made him the natural choice as Philippine Ambassador to Japan. Let it be noted, however, that the name Philippines then did not represent an educated elite representing a nation. Japanese books that mentioned “Spain” could be referring to the Philippines. Before finding out with fatal results that volcanoes could be used to martyr friars and Christians, Pedro Bautista was credited for discovering the hot springs in Los Baños. Then he was off to Japan where, Christianity was tolerated first, questioned, allowed, ignored and, finally banned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There are accounts that the powerful daimyo was threatening to launch an attack on the Philippines and Pedro Bautista was prevailed upon by the Spanish authorities to negotiate a peace agreement with the Japanese. Remember that it was Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was behind the planned invasions of Korea towards the end of the 16th century. The presence of a strong colonial force manned by Spain in a group of islands close to his territory was therefore a threat to this man who was known as one of the three great unifiers of Japan. The other two were Oda Nobunaga and Ieyasu Tokugawa: the former embraced Christianity because it allowed him to import guns and aided him in fighting the mighty Buddhists; the latter repudiated Christianity. It is said that the ban on Christianity is intrinsically linked to Sakoku, the isolationist policy which closed Japan to the world. Pedro Bautista arrived at the wrong place and the wrong time. He was the hot target of a powerful warrior who was famous for enshrining the samurai as the only class of men allowed to carry arms and weapon. The martyrdom of Pedro Bautista is not as simple as the stories being told on Catholic pages. When he was in Japan, he did what he had accomplished in the Philippines – set up schools and hospitals. But the period was a complex one: Spain and Portugal were not seeing eye-to-eye. The many Christians in Japan generated bristling rivalries among themselves. Pedro Bautista’s brand of mysticism played against the mysticisms of Buddhism and the many strands of Shinto beliefs. One day, Pedro Bautista was hauled to jail with the rest of missionaries and their lay ministers. Kept in a jail in Kyoto, their ears were removed. They were then made to walk almost 800 kilometers from Kyoto to Nagasaki, a walk that took them several weeks. In Nagasaki, they were taken to Nishizaka, a site on a hill, where they were crucified. A spear or lance was pierced through each of the person’s heart. It was said that Pedro Bautista was the last to be pierced. As the other men in the company were dying, Pedro Bautista led the singing of the Te Deum. Shusako Endo wrote “Silence,” a novel which probes the faith of the Japanese and that part in the Japanese history when Christians were persecuted. That period gave rise to the “kakure Kirishitan” or hidden Christians. They persisted with their faith even as there were no more active churches and even when there were no more priests to say Mass. Interestingly, there is really no word for “silence” in Japanese. There are equivalents and they say much about the world of the Japanese Christian and how it could apply to faith. There is “shizuka” which connotes stillness and the state of being calm. Endo, however, chose the word “chinmoku,” which was the original title of the novel. The word means “to hold back” or “to say nothing.” What is faith then if you do not say anything about it? The case of Pedro Bautista is, however, another form of silence, that of historical silence. The Japanese are noted for silenced histories. In their history books, the occupation of some parts of China in the 1930s is described as “the Japanese moving to.” In Japanese culture books, there is no mention of the outcast, the “burakumin” or “people of the village.” These were people who worked on dirty things, such as being undertakers or butchers. Some of them were descended from Koreans. The books on World War II in Japan are also silent about the cruelties inflicted by the Japanese soldiers to Asia. There were 26 of them on that hill in 1597, with Pedro Bautista as the leader. But when people talk of the 26 Martyrs, the name of Pedro Bautista is rarely mentioned first. It is always Paulo Miki, a Jesuit seminarian, and the 25 Martyrs. This February 2019 in the Surplus Year of the Pig, Dr. Mary Jane Guazon Uy, is going to launch her novella for young adults. It is titled The Book of Pedro Bautista. Not history, for that is imagined, but imagination, because it is created and creative, which will rule the book of Mary Jane. The author is a doctor by profession but a writer by exquisite obsession and passion. The book will be launched in Savage Mind, a bookstore/culture hub/retreat managed by multi-awarded poet and writer, Kristian Sendon Cordero, along Peninsula St., Mayon, Naga City. It is a place where you could surf the shelf for rare books, any books, and, if you are lucky, be treated to coffee and “binamban” by Atty. Dan Adan, or be served with red wine by Kristian as he plays the blues of Billie Holiday, the sweet kundiman of Cely Bautista, or the cello music of Luka Sulic.

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