Despite being history’s first Jesuit pope, Pope Francis to date has elevated only a couple of new Jesuit saints. The short list includes St. Peter Faber, the first Jesuit priest and theologian, for whom Francis waived the usual requirement of a second miracle, and José de Anchieta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary in Brazil in the 16th century.
A region of Italy, however, is now clamoring for the Jesuit pope to add another member of his order to the list.
In Sicily, the diocese of Mazara del Vallo is petitioning the pope to accelerate the cause of its native son, Father Giovanni Matteo Adami, a native Sicilian and Jesuit who was martyred in Japan, given that 2016 is the 340th anniversary of his birth.
Born in 1576, Adami was part of an upper-class family and his uncle wanted him to become a nobleman through military service. Instead, at the age of 16 he declared his desire to enter the Society of Jesus.
Like his fellow Jesuits of the same era St. Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci, Adami was sent to serve in Asia. He left for Macau in 1602, spent some time in India doing theological studies, and reached Japan in 1604.
After Japan’s imperial government declared a series of anti-Christian edicts in 1612, Adami was exiled to Macau for a time. He returned to Japan in 1618 and moved around seeking refuge from anti-Christian persecution, eventually arriving in Nagasakin in 1630 through what is today Tokyo.
Today, the Jesuit archives in Rome preserve correspondence he sent back to headquarters between 1615 and 1624.
Like many other Christians in imperial Japan – they were known then as “Kirishitan” — Adami eventually was captured and sentenced to a form of torture known as “tsurushi,” or “reverse hanging.”
In essence, the condemned person would be dangled by their feet with a rope, placed halfway into a ditch with dirt at the bottom. Typically the forehead would be sliced with a blade in order to induce bleeding, thereby lowering blood pressure in the area around the head and making the experience even more painful.
One hand would be bound with another rope but the other was left free, so the person could make a sign if he or she was willing to recant their faith and accept the imperial cult.
To date, perhaps the most famous victim of “tsurushi” was St. Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino martyr to be formally canonized. He was beatified by St. Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Philippines in 1981, the first beatification outside the Vatican, and then canonized in 1987.
Like Ruiz, Adami refused to renounce his Christian faith, and according to reports at the time, died after five days of agony on October 22, 1633. He was 57 years old at the time of his death.
In early November, the Episcopal Seminary of Mazara del Vallo held a roundtable on the life and witness of Adami, intended to kick-start the process of his beatification and canonization. Among other things, the event featured a book on Adami that carries a preface from the local bishop, Domenico Mogavero, who’s a veteran trusted figure in Vatican circles.
“Geographic distance,” Mogavero wrote, “does not justify the oblivion surrounding this glorious apostle of Christ.”
In his era, Adami was well-known and influential figures in the church of the 16th and 17th centuries, such as Cardinal Giulio Antonio Santori, who for a time served as the Vatican’s top doctrinal official and oversaw the inquisition process against Giordano Bruno, which foreshadowed the Galileo case; Father Claudio Acquaviva, the fifth superior general of the Jesuits; and Father Pietro Spinelli, who was the rector of several important Jesuit schools, including the Roman College.
The diocese of Mazara del Vallo has now agreed to sponsor a postulator, or official, for Adami’s beatification case, hoping that a Jesuit pope may smile on a figure from his own order whose sacrifice has been all but forgotten for almost four centuries.