Bernardo the Japanese

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A statue of Francis Xavier (middle) with his disciples Yajiro (left) and Bernardo (right), in Xavier Park (Kagoshima city, Japan)

Bernardo the Japanese (鹿児島のベルナルド Kagoshima no Berunarudo?, died February 1557) was an early Japanese Christian convert of the 16th century, born in Kagoshima, and the first Japanese to set foot in Europe.[1] Bernardo was one of the first converts of Saint Francis Xavier, and one of his two disciples.[1][2] Bernardo was baptized in 1549.[2] He followed Xavier in Japan and India.[2]

Bernardo left for Portuguese India with Xavier in 1551, together with another Japanese, Mathias, born in Yamaguchi. They arrived in India in February 1552.[1] Mathias died in Goa however.[3] Bernardo then left for Portugal with Brother Andreas Fernandes,[1] where he arrived in 1553, with a letter written by Francis Xavier in Goa, dated 8 April 1552.[2] The objective was for Bernardo "to see the Christian religion in all its majesty", so that he could share his experience back in Japan.[1] In his letter, Xavier also commented that "Japanese intellect [was] as sharp and sensible as any in the world".[1]

Bernardo is thought to have been the first Japanese to set foot on European soil.[1] In Portugal, Bernardo applied to and entered the Society of Jesus.[2][3] He also studied at the College of Coimbra.[3]

After two years, Bernardo left to visit Rome on 17 July 1554, going through Spain to Barcelona, to take a ship to Naples.[1] He was present in Rome during a period of 10 months. He met with Loyola and probably attended the election of Pope Marcellus II.[1] Bernardo was highly valued, and gave great hope to the Papacy about the prospects of Catholicism in Japan.[1]

Bernardo left Rome on 23 October 1555, and took a ship in Genoa.[1] Bernardo died however upon his return to Portugal in February 1557.[2][3]

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