Hero Priest of Guam

Father Jesus

Eighth of December 1941
People went crazy
Right here in Guam.
Oh, Mr. Sam, Sam
My dear Uncle Sam,
Won’t you please
Come back to Guam.

Resistance song sung by the people of Guam during World War II

Acquired by the US pursuant to the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War in 1898, by the time of the Japanese invasion of Guam in 1941, the people of Guam, Chamorros, were largely pro-American, enjoying prosperity under American rule.  Thus they were hostile to the Japanese invasion of Guam which occurred in December 1941.  The Japanese occupation was brutal, murdering 1000 of the 20,000 people of Guam.

Devout Catholics, the people of Guam looked to the Church in this dark hour, and they did not look in vain.  The head of the Church in Guam was a young priest, Father Jesus Baza Duenas, the second Chamorro to be ordained a priest.  He became the head of the Church when Bishop Miguel Olano was taken away as a prisoner of war by the Japanese.  The Bishop’s parting instruction to Father Duenas was that he defend the Chamorros from the Japanese.  He was an untiring advocate of his people with the Japanese military, fearlessly demanding food and shelter for the many people displaced by the Japanese invasion.  At the same time he instructed his people not to cooperate with the Japanese, telling them that the Americans would be back some day and drive the Japanese out.  He knew about the six Americans who had initially escaped Japanese capture, including sailor George Tweed who would be the only one of the six to survive and evade capture successfully until the liberation of Guam, and who radioed information about the Japanese defenses to the Navy, and that members of his flock were risking their lives, and always paid with their lives when caught by the Japanese, to help the Americans.  Father Duenas refused to give any information about any of this to the Japanese although often questioned by Japanese officers.

Father Duenas was looked upon by the people of Guam as a hero, riding upon his white horse around the island to say mass in remote areas, and to conduct marriages, baptisms and funerals.  To attempt to lessen his influence, the Japanese imported two Japanese Catholic priests, which had absolutely no impact on the esteem in which the people of Guam held their priest.  In frustration, the Japanese would often literally hold a gun to the head of Father Duenas as he said mass, and beat him periodically in public.  This only certified his hero status  and increased his influence among his people, to the rage of the Japanese.

On July 8, 1944, with the liberation of Guam coming close, Father Duenas and his nephew, Attorney Eduardo Duenas, were arrested by the Japanese.  Tortured, they refused to give up information about the whereabouts of George Tweed.  Father Duenas when questioned said that he answered only to God and that the Japanese were not God.  Father Duenas was offered a chance to escape by some of his people who got a message to him.  He refused, saying:  “You must know what would happen to our families if we escape. I’m positive the Japanese will retaliate against them. Go look after you families. God will look after me. I have done no wrong.”

As the sun rose on July 12, 1944, just nine days before the American marines and soldiers stormed ashore on Guam, a date known as the holiday Liberation Day ever since on Guam, Father Duenas and his nephew were beheaded.  Father Duenas was thirty years old.

In 1950 the people of Guam were granted self government and American citizenship.  They have never forgotten Father Duenas.  On the site where he was beheaded, a Catholic high school named after him now stands, and he is remembered each July 12, which is designated  “Father Dueñas Day.”

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Published in: on September 8, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hero Priest of Guam  
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