How far would you go in the proclaiming of your faith? Would you do so even though it meant death, pain, or suffering? In the comfort of our quiet North American lives, this is not a question we are often confronted with. Perhaps we can claim we ‘relate’ to an extent to what it’s like to suffer for one’s faith, as we see millions of our sisters and brothers in the middle east driven out of their homes, or killed because they are Nasrani ( the Arabic for Christian -followers of Jesus from Nazareth-). But even our efforts to relate with those who suffer for their faith, does not enable us to reproduce the experience these martyrs go through. And while no one should ever recommend that we follow the examples of the martyrs in our Church, I believe it’s important we at least try to channel the energy in their spiritual life that drove them to those moments of profound love for Jesus.
Today the Church remembers a group of these martyrs from Japan: Saints Paul Miki (a native Japanese Jesuit priest in formation), John of Goto, James Kisai and their companions. The story of their martyrdom was one deeply connected with the Jesuit ministry in the east. Thanks to the efforts of the Father of all missionary work, Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552), and thanks to the efforts of his Jesuit brothers that came after his death, by 1587, there were around 200,000 Japanese who had entered the Church. Unfortunately, as is usually the norm in mission country, with growth, came tension with the existing political and religious order.
In 1593, when a group of Franciscans (who had a very different, more zealous style of evangelization than the Jesuits did) arrived to Japan from the Philippines, the tensions only escalated. As positive as their work may have been, their presence disturbed a delicate situation between the Church and Japanese authorities. This tension was exacerbated even further when a Spanish ship was seized off the Japanese coast, and found to be carrying artillery. The result was that paranoid, yet influential Japanese minister demanded the execution of 26 Catholics. The group was comprised of “three native Jesuits, six foreign Franciscans, and several lay Catholics including some children. Sentenced to die by crucifixion and lancing (piercing with lances), they were first marched 600 miles to the city of Nagasaki.”
Paul Miki is the one who is the most remembered because of his courageous efforts to evangelize to the mob who were mocking them, even while he hung on the cross:
“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.”
He and his companions were in the end stabbed to death with lances on Feb. 5, 1597, at the site that became known as “Martyrs’ Hill” . We celebrate them today, since February 5th is the date we remember another great martyr in our Church, St Agatha. We are graced in this Church to have such a plethora of people that are absolutely heroic in the way they lived their faith in the world. Let us pray that we can learn to be as courageous and dedicated in the way we evangelize the world today. St Paul Miki and companions, pray for us.
By: Br. Dan (Source: Catholic News Agency)