Before Jesus left this earth, he commissioned his followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The Church has been doing this for 2,000 years.
When the first missionaries, like St. Francis Xavier, came to Japan in 1549 they were welcomed.
By the 1580’s, the church counted about 200,000 members. The growth had proceeded despite the opposition of Buddhist priests and many petty rulers.
The local Japanese feudal lord was a powerful ruler named Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He began a persecution of Catholics because he felt threatened by the Jesuit’s influence and possibly because of their European origins.
In 1587, he banished Christians and destroyed many of their churches. Some missionary priests stayed and went into hiding, dressing like the Japanese natives so they could minister to the Christians. The government martyred more than 3,000 Christians in Japan.
On Dec. 8, 1596, Hideyoshi arrested and condemned to death the friars of Miako.
Among them were three Japanese Jesuits, six Franciscans (four of them Spanish), and 17 Japanese lay members. Charged with attempting to harm the government, they sentenced them 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 seminarian, and a brilliant preacher.
Paul Miki was born in Tounucumada, Japan around 1562 to a wealthy family. His father was a military leader. Paul received a Jesuit education.
After he completed school in 1580, he became a Jesuit seminarian. He was a well known and successful preacher, converting many people to the Catholic Faith. He would have been the very first Japanese priest if he had escaped arrest, for he had already completed his studies for the priesthood.
The government tortured and then forced the 26 men 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 Feb. 5, they reached Nagasaki, where 26 crosses awaited them on a hill now called the Holy Mountain.
The Christians ran to their crosses, singing. 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.Paul Miki said the following statement from the cross,reminiscent of what Jesus said on his cross.
“Having arrived at this moment of my existence, I believe that no one of you thinks I want to hide the truth. That is why I declare to you that there is no other way of salvation than the one followed by Christians. Since this way teaches me to forgive my enemies and all who have offended me, I willingly forgive the king and all those who have desired my death. And I pray that they will obtain the desire of Christian baptism.”
A powerful example for all of us!
In 1858, Japanese rulers again permitted Christianity to flourish in Japan. Missionaries found thousands of Christians still in Japan.
For 200 years they had carried on the faith in secret.Tertullian (c.155-240) said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.”