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MARTYRS OF THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH

Father Francis's picture
Saints Peter Baptist, Paul Miki and Companions

Many followers of Christ have gladly obeyed His instruction to go and teach all nations. One of the greatest was St. Francis Xavier who took the Gospel to Japan in 1549 as the first Christian missionary to set foot in that pagan country. His preaching was so effective that it brought many converts. The good work continued after his death and by 1587 there were around 200,000 Christians in Japan but in that year a terrible setback occurred.

The new emperor regarded himself as a god and expected to be worshipped by all his people. Consequently, he was fiercely opposed to the Christian religion and he ordered all missionaries to leave the country, within 12 months. Some left, but others remained, working in secret.

Over the years, Spanish and Portuguese merchants set up trading links with Japan, but the emperor became convinced that Spain or Portugal planned to conquer his country using missionaries as their agents. He therefore renewed his persecution with great brutality. After being arrested 26 Catholics suffered partial mutilation of one ear and then paraded on wagons around the streets as a warning to all Japanese citizens. This public harangue was repeated in three cities. Then, on 5 February 1597, they were all crucified on a hill near Nagasaki.

Like the 40 martyrs of England and Wales, these 26 brave witnesses are examples to their fellow-countrymen. They represent all those who loved their faith so much that they were willing to die for it. At the same time, they demonstrate the unifying influence of the Catholic Church. Among the six Franciscans were an Englishman, a Spaniard, a Mexican and an Indian, and three Jesuits including Paul Miki, a Japanese of noble birth, and two lay brothers who had only recently joined the Society. The rest, all Japanese, were tertiaries, including a former soldier and three altar boys aged about 13. They were of different backgrounds, ages and nationalities, but what brought them together was the faith they all shared.

May the faith of Saint Paul Miki and his companions live on in the people of Japan. May we always be conscious of the bonds which unite us with our Catholic brothers and sisters everywhere. Let us give our support and prayers to those who are suffering from persecution or discrimination for their Catholic faith in our own times.