Monday, February 06, 2017

Remembering the 26 Martyrs of Japan

A recent big-ticket Hollywood production by Martin Scorcese--which I have not seen, and probably will not see--deals with the persecution of Christians in Japan in the early 17th century. While that film focuses on those priests who apostasized under torture, a much better and more memorable work could be made about the many who remained faithful.

Among the twenty-six martyrs of Japan, twenty of them were native born Japanese. Here are a few of their stories, as taken from The Japanese Martyrs by Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Kenners, published in 1862. All twenty-six were canonized as saints of the Catholic Church in 1862 by Pope Saint Pius IX.
Paulus Michi (Saint Paul Miki). He was a Japanese by birth, and even some historians assert that he was descended from a noble family. He was once a distinguished officer, and by his superior qualities he rendered himself a great favorite at the Court of the Emperor Nobununga. He became a Christian in 1568. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1586, and he made great progress in the spiritual life and in his theological studies. He was also one of the most important preachers in Japan, and it was on account of his great and ardent zeal that he was numbered amongst the Franciscan Fathers, for whom he had always felt a peculiar affection. Having received from God the grace of the apostleship, he could not see how any human power should interfere with his zeal. God moved him (he inwardly felt), he must then follow the motion and the direction of God, and fearless of death, under whatever shape it might present itself, he must evangelize. When a prisoner and bound with chains, he preached to the people whenever he saw them. Thrown amongst criminals condemned for their crimes, he preached to them the salutary doctrine of Christianity. When removed from one place to another he preached, now to the soldiers, now to the people, and at other times he encouraged his Brothers in chains. When fixed upon his Cross he declared, once for all, that there was no other road to heaven than that which, the Christian religion pointed out. He cheerfully forgave his enemies, and those who had condemned him to death, conjuring them with his last breath to become Christians. Having finished his discourse, and seeing the soldier approaching with his spear, he said: “Oh! Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” and then received the stroke of death. 
Jacobus Kisai. He was a native of the Kingdom of Bigen, in Japan. He had been married, but his wife having apostatized, he left her, and placed his child in a good Christian school. He retired from the world, and entered the Society of Jesus, at Osaka. Being well instructed in religion, he was frequently employed as catechist. He was a man of prayer, and spent the greater part of the day in the contemplation of the Passion of our Lord — his special object of devotion. When he was taken prisoner, all the people took great compassion upon him, on account of his great age. Some showed public sympathy for him, hut he humbly answered: “I am a great sinner.” When he was fixed upon the Cross, his lips were constantly moving in prayer, and his last words were “Jesus, Maria;” and, finally, he resigned his soul, enriched with virtue in a supereminent degree, into the hands of his Savior.
Joannes Goto. He was born of Christian parents in the Island of Goto. He had devoted himself early in life to the service of the Jesuit Missionaries, assisting them at the altar and acting as catechist. He was taken prisoner, and condemned on account of his zeal in propagating the Christian religion. When he arrived at the place of execution, he gave his beads to his father, and to his mother he gave the handkerchief which had been wrapped about his head. He died a cheerful death. His father stood under the Cross, and received on his clothes the blood of his martyred son, and then, kissing the Cross, he withdrew.  
Cosmas Tachegia. He was born in the small kingdom of Oaris, in Japan. His occupation in the world was that of sharpening swords. His disposition was exceedingly mild. He had only very recently been baptized, and he led a most holy life. His constant aim was to labor by prayer, and the punctual observance of the divine law to preserve his baptismal innocence unsullied. He was the companion of Father Martinus, and he acted as his interpreter. He was glad to suffer with the other Fathers, and he looked upon the Cross with delight, believing that it would be instrumental in taking him to heaven, that it would be the key to unlock its gates to admit him into the society of the blessed, where his sufferings would be eternally rewarded with the fruition of its ineffable delights. His Cross was the second on the eastern side.
Franciscus of Miako. He was born at Miako, in Japan, and he was a very skillful physician. He devoted himself entirely to the Fathers, assisting them in their labors, instructing the people, and acting as interpreter for those amongst them who could not express themselves with sufficient clearness in the Japanese language. It seems that he wrote a few treatises to refute the absurdities and to remove  the prejudices of the Japanese people.
Paulus Suzuchi. He was born in the kingdom of Oaris, in Japan. He wrote several tracts for the instruction of the neophytes. He was the principal Catechist, and he devoted all his leisure hours to attendance on the the sick in the hospitals. He was delighted at finding that God had selected him as one of the chosen band who were to seal their religious convictions with their blood. His Cross was the last on the western side of the hill.
The names of the other native Japanese martyrs are below. A brief bio of each may be found in The Japanese Martyrs:

Cajus Franciscus
Michael Cosacki
Thomas Cosacki (son of Michael, age 12)
Paulus Ibarki
Leo Carasuma (brother of Paulus Ibarki)
Petrus Suchegiro
Lewis (a child of 10)
Anthony (a child of 12)
Joachim Saccachibara
Thomas Danchi
John Chimoia

The remaining foreign missionary martyrs also deserve remembrance. Their names are:
Fr. Petrus Baptista
Fr. Martinus de Aguirre
Fr. Francis Blanco
Fr. Philippus a Jesu
Fr. Gonsalvus Garcia
Fr. Francis of St. Michael

All of these above are Franciscans. The whole amazing story about the lives and deaths of these courageous men may be found in Fr. Kenners's The Japanese Martyrs.

Reproduction of a painting of the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki which originally
appeared in the Church of Sao Paulo in Macau, China, now ruined.

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