Thought for the Day – 6 February – The Memorial of St Paul Miki S.J. (c 1564-1597) & Companions – 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki
When the first missionaries, like St Francis Xavier, came to Japan in 1549 they were welcomed. Many Japanese became Christians. When the leader Hideyoshi took command, he feared that Christians would take over the government. In 1587, he banished them and destroyed many of their churches. Some missionary priests stayed and went into hiding, dressing like Japanese in order to minister to the Christians.
More than 3,000 Christians were martyred in Japan. On 8 December 1596, Hideyoshi arrested and condemned to death the friars of Miako. Among them were three Japanese Jesuits, six Franciscans (four of them Spanish) and seventeen Japanese laymen. Charged with attempting to harm the government, they were sentenced to crucifixion. Some of these men were very young – Louis was 10, Anthony, 13, Thomas, 16 and Gabriel, 19. The best known is Paul Miki, who was a Japanese of a noble family, a Jesuit brother and a brilliant preacher.
The twenty-six men were tortured and then forced to walk more than 300 miles from Miako to Nagasaki through snow and ice and freezing streams. Along the way they preached to the people who had come out to see them. They sang psalms of praise and joy. They prayed the rosary and told the people that such a martyrdom was an occasion of rejoicing, not of sadness. Finally, on 5 February they reached Nagasaki, where twenty-six crosses awaited them on a hill now called the Holy Mountain. It is said that the Christians ran to their crosses, singing. St Paul Miki said –
“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. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again – ask Christ to help you become happy. I obey Christ. 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.”
Soldiers bound them to the crosses with iron bands at their wrists, ankles and throats. Then they thrust them through with lances. Many people came to watch the cruel deaths. Hideyoshi and his solders had hoped the example would frighten other Christians. Instead, it gave them the courage to profess their faith as the martyrs had.
These martyrs died an horrendous and agonising death in witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. We may not be asked to make this sacrifice but we are all called upon to bear witness to our faith, sometimes in ways that are very difficult – yes even in our parishes, neighbourhoods and schools. Could we witness thus?
In 1858, Japan again permitted Christianity in Japan. Missionaries found thousands of Christians still in Japan. For two hundred years they had carried on the faith in secret.
Paul Miki was born in Japan and educated by the Jesuits. He would have been the very first Japanese priest if he had escaped arrest, for he had already completed his studies for the priesthood. From his cross he forgave his persecutors and told the people to ask Christ to show them how to be truly happy.