06 February 2010
Saints Paul Miki and Companions
The first missionaries to Japan, including Saint Francis Xavier, arrived in 1549, and were welcomed by the Japanese people. Indeed, many Japanese converted to the faith because of the work of these missionaries. By A.D. 1587 there were more than 200,000 Japanese Christians. However, under the new leadership of Hideyoshi, who feared Christians would take over the government on the basis of a Spanish merchant's gossip, that year the missionaries were banished from Japan and many of the Catholic churches were destroyed. Following this purging, some missionary priests remained in Japan in hiding, dressing and living as Japanese, and continued to minister to the Christians there.
On 8 December 1596, Hideyoshi arrested and condemned to death the friars of Miako. These souls consisted of three Japanese Jesuit catechists, including Saint Paul Miki, six Franciscans (four of whom were Spanish and one Indian and one Mexican), and seventeen Japanese lay Christians, some of whom were children. The twenty-six men were tortured and made to march from Miako to Nagasaki through the snow and across frozen streams. On this spectacular journey meant to dissuade Japanese Christians from their faith, the martyrs sang psalms of praise and joy, prayed the rosary, and preached to those they passed. On 5 February the band of 26 Christians reached Nagasaki and found twenty-six crosses awaiting them on what is now called the Holy Mountain. Tradition tells that Saints Miki and his companions ran to their crosses. They were bound to the crosses by iron bands at the wrists, ankles, and the throat. Then, after being crucified, all of these Saints were stabbed with a lance as our Lord Jesus Christ was penetrated at His crucifixion. The blood-stained clothes of these martyrs were treasured by the Christian community in Japan and many miracles have been attributed to the intercessions of these saints.
Many people watched the crucifixion of Saints Miki and his companions. Hideyoshi and the government had hoped that this example of terrible execution would frighten the other Japanese Christians. Instead, the witness of these martyrs gave Christians in Japan the courage to profess their faith as Saints Miki and his companions had.
In A.D. 1858 Japan allowed Christian missionaries to return where they found many Christians still professing the faith, which they had carried on in secret in the more than two hundred years since the crucifixion of Saints Miki and his companions.
At the time of his arrest Saint Paul Miki had completed his studies for the priesthood and would have become the first ordained Japanese priest. From his cross, tradition records that Saint Paul Miki forgave his executioners and told the assembled people to ask Christ to show them how to be truly happy. Saints Miki and his companions were canonized by Blessed Pope Pius IX in A.D. 1862.
(From the Liturgy of the Hours)
God our Father,
source of strength for all your saints,
you led Paul Miki and his companions
through the suffering of the cross
to the joy of eternal life.
May their prayers give us the courage
to be loyal until death in profession our faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
IMAGE: Unknown Artist (from Women for Faith & Family (St Louis: Women for Faith & Family, 2010 http://wf-f.org/StPaulMiki.html)).