Martyr from Bataan

AT RANDOM - Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, SJ -
Sometime ago Max Soliven, commenting on the appointment of a new Ombudsman, mentioned in his column that the appointee is a niece of a Jesuit who had been tortured and killed by the Japanese. Some of Soliven’s readers have asked me who that Jesuit was. Those to whom I mentioned the name have said that they had never heard of that Jesuit. More recently an inquiry came to my office asking for documents regarding the life and work of that Jesuit. Documents I have none, but memories, yes. And such dates as are given by the "Catalogus Defunctorum". Meager as are these data, it is worth writing them down because I believe that that Jesuit priest was a martyr for Christ and for his priesthood.

His name was Father Agustin Consunji. Born in Samal, Bataan, on 5 May 1891, he entered the Jesuit novitiate which was then on Padre Faura Street in Manila 20 September 1911. He made his studies here and in Spain and finally in the United States. He was admitted to Final Vows as a Jesuit on 2 February 1928. He returned to the Philippines already a priest in the middle 1930s, and after a short stay at Novaliches (which was where I met him) he was assigned as a missionary in Mindanao.

Most of the priests in Mindanao at that time were foreign missionaries, with only a few Filipinos among them, and when war broke out in 1941, only the Filipinos could remain to serve the parishes. Father Consunji covered Iligan and Dansalan (Marawi) and the other Lanao settlements.

Although he lived in the town, he considered himself responsible for those who had evacuated to the hills. So, when he was asked to administer the sacraments to them, he responded by going to the hills.

On his return he was arrested by the Japanese and charged with aiding the guerrillas. He was tortured then brought to Cagayan (de Oro) where another Jesuit priest, Father Isaias X. Edralin, saw him but could not talk to him. Father Edralin made a sign that he was giving him sacramental absolution.

Father Consunji was brought to Manila and was never again seen. How he died is not clear. It is said that he was made to dig his own grave and then was killed. The Jesuit Catalogus Defunctorum gives the date of his death as 10 December 1943.

If the manner of his death is not exactly known, one thing is certain: he was imprisoned, tortured and killed because he had done his priestly duty. That, in my opinion, would make him a martyr, subject to the judgment of the Church.

Father Consunji was only one of the multitude of people — including priests — who were killed, by the Japanese. How many priests were killed, is not known. Not all of them could be called martyrs, only those who were killed precisely because they were priests or because they did their priestly ministry.

One of those who could certainly qualify as a martyr was Bishop William Finemann S.V.D. of the Mindoro Apostolic Vicariate. As I understand it, he had tried to protect girls from being recruited for the Japanese brothels. Although Bishop Finemann was a German, he had become a Filipino citizen, so the Japanese arrested him and loaded him on a ship bound for Luzon. The ship arrived, but not the Bishop. His body must have been thrown into the sea during the voyage.

We cannot officially call such men martyrs because they have not been beatified or canonized. The process in Rome requires rigorous proof of martyrdom or of heroic virtue. Rightly so. Any relaxation in the rules would weaken the process.

Nevertheless, although not officially declared martyrs, we can honor them as heroes, and thank God that we have men among us who have been given the grace to suffer and die in His service.

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