There is a true story that is not well known in the world about a hero. He was a member of the clergy who served his ministry in a remote part of the world. His heroism came about because of his integrity during a period of extraordinary circumstances. His name was Jesus Baza Duenas. He was known in the island of Guam simply as Father Duenas.
Born on the island of Guam in 1914, young Jesus grew up under a very Roman Catholic Spanish tradition. Like many young native Chamorro boys in Guam, the enjoyed the carefree island lifestyle with the strong extended family culture. It was an idyllic setting away from the troubles of the world.
When he completed elementary school, he was sent to the Philippines where he entered the seminary to study for the Priesthood. This was a great honor for his family and for Guam. He became the second native Chamorro to be ordained a Catholic Priest.
After his ordination, he was assigned to Guam under the direction of Bishop Miguel Olano, the last Spanish Bishop of Guam. Duenas was posted in the village of Inarajan at St Joseph’s Church.
He quickly gained a reputation as a priest known for his kindness and love for the people in his parish and in southern Guam.
His popularity and independence were so strong that when the Japanese invaded Guam in 1941, they saw him as a threat and put him under constant surveillance. He was made Pro-Vicar of the church when Bishop Olano was removed to Japan as a prisoner of war. Olano had instructed Duenas to defend the Chamorros against the Japanese.
Father Duenas was determined to advocate the needs of the local people in terms of food, shelter and medicines. He would meet often with the Japanese military to negotiate items.
Behind the scenes he did what he could do to destabilize the Japanese by encouraging the native people to disobey the Japanese wherever possible. Duenas knew the United States would be back to reclaim its territory one day.
More significant than all of this effort was how Father Duenas was fearless in keeping faith alive among the people. He would often ride his famous white horse to remote areas of the jungles and other areas to hold masses, bless people, babies, crops.
“There was a time when one of the Japanese soldiers told him, ‘You know there is no way you can leave this place,’ and he said ‘I want you to move.’ He was almost beheaded at that time and he said ‘Just move, please, because I need to do what I need to do.’ And the soldier didn’t want to. He got down and he just scuffed the guy away, and he got up on his horse and he went on.” (http://www.pacificworlds.com/guam/memories/memory3.cfm)
The Japanese were so paranoid of his power, that sometimes they would hold a gun to his head throughout an entire mass. They even brought two Japanese Catholic priests into Guam to try to lessen his influence.
His popularity grew stronger.
Finally, the Japanese started accusing Father Duenas of assisting in hiding a U.S. Navy man on island named George Tweed ( who hid in Guam for nearly two years). These accusations led them to take Duenas through several series of public beatings.
These beatings did not break the Chamorro spirit. It strengthened it and made them loved their priest even more.
Father Duenas never wavered in his commitment to not give any information to the enemy. Then the following happen:
“On July 8, 1944, the Japanese police went to Inarajan and arrested Father Dueñas and his nephew, Attorney Edwardo Dueñas, for not informing them about Tweed’s whereabouts. They were interrogated and tortured. After three days of torture, Father Dueñas was offered a possible chance to escape. He refused, telling the men who hoped to aid him, “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.”
In the late hours of July 11, the police gave up and put Father Dueñas and his nephew in the hands of the Kaikuntai–the execution squad. Father and his nephew were taken to Tai in Chalan Pago. Minutes before sunrise, Father Jesus Baza Dueñas was beheaded. He was 30 years old.” (http://www.fatherduenas.com/history.htm)
On the site that Father Duenas was beheaded there now stands an All male Catholic High School named in his honor. That school has produced many of Guam’s Governors, Congressmen, and business leaders.
His martyrdom is more than one of faith; it was one for the people- his people- the Chamorros. Against a powerful enemy, he stood up armed only with faith and conviction.
This hero from Guam is really a hero for the world. He is Father Jesus Baza Duenas.