Today in the Holy Mother Church we remember and honor the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki.This group included three native Jesuits, six foreign Franciscans and several lay Catholics including children.
Previously, Japan had been evangelized under St. Francis Xavier and by 1587 there were approximately 200,000 Catholics throughout Japan.
However, in 1587, religious tensions began to rise and religious restrictions grew and many churches were destroyed. Many priests and missionaries began to work in hiding. This underground Catholic church was able to continue her mission and there were no outright killings of Christians during this time. In fact, over 100,000 Japanese people converted to Catholicism during this time.
In 1593 Spain ordered Franciscan missionaries from the Philippines to go into Japan. These missionaries had great love and zeal for the faith and it showed in their acts of corporal and spiritual works of mercy. They thrived, but their mere presence in Japan created a sensitive relation between the Church and the Japanese authorities.
One such authority was Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a powerful imperial minister. When a Spanish ship was seized off the coast of Japan by Hideyoshi, he found it to contain artillery and perceiving this as a military threat, he sentenced all the Catholics aboard the ship to be killed.
These captives were tortured and forced to march 600 miles to Nagasaki and ordered to die by crucifixion and lancing. They were submitted to horrendous torture, and were used as an example to the Japanese people, but the group continued to pray, in fact they chanted and sang “Te Deum” as they marched, and then as they were nailed to their crosses and paraded through town. At one point they had their ears cut off and had their blood smeared on there faces to discourage others from converting. They were finally crucified and then each one was thrust through the side with a lance, including the captive children.
Throughout the entire ordeal this group of saints kept their focus on God. Father Paul Miki even gave his last sermon from the cross:
“The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. 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.”
Saint Paul Miki and his companions were beatified in 1627. In 1862, Pope Pius IX canonized them.
I believe an interesting fact to mention, is that Catholic Missionaries returned to Japan in 1860. At first it appeared that the entire Catholic population had been wiped out, but after the priests established new missions, the Catholics who had been in hiding emerged. They found that thousands of Christians resided in Nagasaki, secretly preserving the faith that had been handed onto them and then fed by blood of those holy martyrs who had died defending Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.
Dear Lord, Thank you for sending these Holy Saints as an example for us. Let us pray that we meet with them in heaven. May their story provide us with the courage we need in our day to day evangelization efforts. May we always forgive those who would like to harm us and continue to pray for the conversion of all peoples throughout all the lands. Amen.
click on above link to hear this beautiful chant.