Page 5, 16th February 1979

16th February 1979
Page 5
Page 5, 16th February 1979 — St Francis Xavier's Japanese followers who died for Christ

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Organisations: Church of Japan
Locations: Bombay


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St Francis Xavier's Japanese followers who died for Christ

. the ears of the victims were cut off and displayed in different towns. Later they were crucified . . THE WORD "martyr" means "witness". The apostles (except John) were martyrs; so too were the saints of the early Church. Only later did bishops and monks obtain the honour of sainthood.

But martyrdom, or dying for Christ or for belief in the Christian Creed, was not confined to the Mediterranean lands or to the first few centuries. England too had plenty of martyrs in early times. When we talk of the "English Martyrs" we generally mean thos who died in the persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries.

In the same two centuries, some hundreds of Japanese Catholics, first evangelised by St Francis Xavier (d 1551), gave their lives for Christ. For long their cult was confined to the Far East, but in 1969 their feast on February 6, was ineluded in the revised Roman Calendar for the whole Church.

The first and most famous group of them died in 1597. The consisted of three JeSuits, six Franciscans and 17 layfolk.

On of them, Paul Miki, was a Japanese aristocrat who became a Jesuit and a famous preacher. Four of the Franciscans were Spanish; one came from Bombay. The layfolk included one Korean; the others were all Japanese, some catechists or interpreters, one soldier, one doctor and three boys. The reason for their death was the envious fear of the ruler of Japan, alarmed by the increase in numbers of the Christians. The crisis may have been aggravated by the tactless boasts of a Spanish captain. The details of their story reflects both the policy of including dependants in the

sentences, and the cruelty with which tortures and executions were carried out. To start with, the ears of victims were cut off and displayed in different towns. They were later crucified near Nagasaki.

First they were chained or tied to the crosses on the ground; these were then raised in a row; then the executioners killed each of them with a lance. Their blood and their clothes were collected by the Christians and treasured as relics.

Another group of 205 Japanese martyrs suffered between the years 1617 and 1632. The ruler had banished all Christian teachers, forbade all contact with priests under pain of being burnt alive. Not surprisingly they had been some apostacies.

This time, Dominican friars were prominent among toe martyrs, notaisie Alphonsus Navarette who had both organised the rescue of children exposed to death, and taken care of the sick.

In 1622 more Franciscans and Jesuits suffered in the so-called Great Martyrdom, witnessed by many people including an English sea-captain, who saw 55 people, including children, put to death at Miako. Most of the martyrs were either beheaded or burnt.

Once again plenty of the laity died with their priests. The young Church of Japan proved once again that they were fully mature in their Faith and love of Christ.

They too were worthy witnesses, no less than their European counterparts, to the Christian ideals of supreme sacrifice, not sought by them, but required by external authority, in the time of crisis.

Having confessed and name of Christ they experienced too the recognition promised by him in the Gospel to all his faithful witnesses.

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