February 5, 2017

St. Paul Miki and Companions, the Martyrs of Nagasaki

St. Paul Miki and Companions
Detail of monument to the 26 Jesuit Martyrs at the Nagasaki Museum.

Feb. 6th, is the memorial of Saint Paul Miki and companions, the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki comprised of native Japanese Catholics and foreign missionaries who were martyred for their faith in 1597. The most well-known of the martyrs are Saints Paul Miki, John of Goto, and James Kisai. Bro. Miki was studying for the priesthood, Kisai was a lay brother and John was a postulant. The faith and joy they exhibited in imitating Christ to the last impressed their persecutors greatly.

Catholicism reached Japan in the 16th century, when the Jesuit missionary Saint Francis Xavier first preached the Good News there. As a result of continued Jesuit catechesis, by 1590, some 200,000 Japanese had entered the Church. So long as the Emperor permitted it, the Jesuits ministered discreetly, with much success.

In 1587, the Japanese imperial government, leery of Jesuit influence and the growing number of Christians among their citizenry, began a series of brutal crackdowns. Few Christian communities have endured such intense persecution over such a sustained period. Among them were priests, professed religious and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order. They were catechists, doctors, artisans and servants; including old men and innocent children, all united in their faith and singular devotion to Christ and his Church.

By order of the Emperor, in January 1597, Paul Miki and his companions were sentenced to die by crucifixion and lancing. They were marched 600 miles from Kyoto to the city of Nagasaki, the place of execution. Throughout the journey, they were tortured, mocked and humiliated. While hanging upon the cross Miki preached to the assembled bystanders, saying in part: "The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. After Christ's example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain."

On February 5, 1597, the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki were stabbed to death with lances at the site that became known as "Martyrs' Hill." They were beatified in 1627, and canonized by Pius IX in 1862. Despite Japan's systematic persecution of Christians, when Commodore Matthew Perry went to Japan in 1853, he found around 20,000 Japanese Christians secretly practicing the faith. O God, strength of all the Saints, who through the Cross were pleased to call the Martyrs Saint Paul Miki and companions to life, grant, we pray, that by their intercession we may hold with unrelenting courage even until death to the faith that we profess.

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