Hero Priest of Guam

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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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10 Comments

  1. Those many Western Pacific territories (including the Philippines) won in the Spanish-American War were blessed, having been first gifted by Spain the faith of the Catholic Church.
    It is a faith that to this day stands tall against those who loathe Christianity. In fact, it is a faith that shines more purer and stronger than that in many far more wealthy places in America and even Rome.

  2. Question: How many Americans know Guam is part of the United States?
    Answer: Not nearly as many Americans as those who slavishly follow the Kardashians or Bruce Jenner or read celebrity magazines.

    I never knew of this holy priest. He died the death of a martyr at the hands of a most cruel and barbaric empire. This post should be repeated next August 6th and 9th.

  3. Donald, I served with the US Air Force on Guam from 84-87. Was familiar with the story of Father Duenas, but had not thought about him in the last 30 years. Thanks for sharing this story and reminding me again of the sacrifices he went through caring for his flock under the brutal Japanese occupation. Indeed paying the ultimate sacrifice. http://www.inarajanguam.com/

  4. I was a marine during the Vietnam war and knew some Guamanians. A friend of mine was GySgt Sing, a true patriot. I learned later that more Guamanians, who served in the United States Military, during the Vietnam War and were killed per capita than any state in the United States. Håfa adai! meaning hello and Si Yu’us ma’ase meaning thank you, is about my extent of the language I learned there. I was lucky enough to have visited the Island and see some of it’s beautiful sights, such as Talofofo Falls.

  5. I just want to say that the Chamorro people may have been pro-American, but they kind of disliked their rule, but preferred it over the Spanish. We were essentially a colony to the US. We had no rights and most of our land was taken from us by the military. At one point in time the military controlled around 2/3 of the land. It wasn’t until years after WWII for the people of Guam to have an Organic Act that granted some rights. We are still on a quest to gain more rights. Look up John Oliver’a US territories video on YouTube to see how bad it is for the territories. There are many that belive that Guam is “America’s last colony.”

  6. The Organic Act CJ was in 1950. With American citizenship, also granted in 1950, Chamorros had the right to come to the United States, a right many of them have utilized. With the small population of Guam there is no way Guam is ever going to be a state. Independence for Guam has never had much support in Guam. I assume that commonwealth status like that of Puerto Rico might eventually be an option over Guam’s current territorial status, but that has pluses and minuses.

  7. Sometime ago I read that, before the Japanese invasion, the American military authority stationed on Guam asked for about $5 million worth of assistance to counter the expected invasion. Had they received it, the marines stationed there might have held on until much greater help arrived.

  8. Guam should be thankful it is not like Puerto Rico. Administration is in the hand of the locals who retained the worst of Spanish customs and adopted the even worse of the mainland. I would also note that CJ is a distinct minority. I worked in the Philippines and Guam was part of our operational area. Most Chamorros were quite satisfied with the arrangement given the employment opportunities and US citizenship. When they were offered status change at the end of the 20th Century, they opted to remain with the US. Strangely enough, even after the brutal Japanese occupation, they are welcomed as tourists today and are responsible for much of the development on the island.

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