Category Archives: Japan

Feb 3 – Bl Iustus Takayama Ukon (高山右近), or Dom Justo Takayama (born Hikogorō Shigetomo) (1552 – 3 – 5 February 1615), Martyr


-Blessed Iustus Takayama Ukon 高山右近 Kirishitan Daimyō, please click on the image for greater detail

“The Holy Daimyo of Christ”, Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon, Martyr, was a Japanese Catholic (日本のカトリック教会) kirishitan (吉利支丹, 切支丹, キリシタン, きりしたん), daimyō, and samurai.  Of the Japan’s 42 Japanese Saints and 394 Blessed, only the Cause of Blessed Takayama Ukon was processed individually – a first instance in Japanese church history. All other Japanese Saints and Blessed are group martyrs, processed by the Vatican in four batches.

Kirishitan, from Portuguese cristão, referred to Roman Catholic Christians in Japanese and is used in Japanese texts as a historiographic term for Roman Catholics in Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries. The daimyō (大名) were powerful Japanese feudal lords.

Modern Japanese has several words for Christian of which the most common are the noun form kirisuto-kyōto キリスト教徒, and also kurisuchan クリスチャン. The Japanese word kirishitan キリシタン is used primarily in Japanese texts for the early history of Roman Catholicism in Japan, or in relation to Kakure Kirishitan, Hidden Christians. However, English sources on histories of Japan generally use the term “Christian” without distinction.

Christian missionaries were known as bateren (from the Portuguese word padre, “father”) or iruman (from the Portuguese irmão, “brother”). Both the transcriptions 切支丹 and 鬼利死丹 came into use during the Edo Period when Christianity was a forbidden religion. The Kanji used for the transcriptions have negative connotations. The first one could be read as “cut off support”, and the second as “devils who profit from death”.

Portuguese ships began arriving in Japan in 1543, with Catholic missionary activities in Japan beginning in earnest around 1549, mainly by Portuguese-sponsored Jesuits until Spanish-sponsored mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, gained access to Japan. Of the 95 Jesuits who worked in Japan up to 1600, 57 were Portuguese, 20 were Spaniards and 18 Italian. Fr. Francis Xavier, SJ, Fr. Cosme de Torres, SJ, and João Fernandes, SJ were the first to arrive to Kagoshima with hopes to bring Catholicism to Japan.

Takayama had been baptized into the faith in 1564 when he was twelve, though over time neglected his faith due to his actions as a samurai. He would eventually rekindle his faith just after his coming-of-age ritual near the age of 20. He abandoned his status to devote himself to his faith and was exiled to Manila, where he lived a life of holiness until his death two months later.

In 1571 he participated in an important and successful battle all as part of his coming-of-age ritual which culminated in a duel to the death with a compatriot whom he killed; but Ukon received grievous wounds in the process and during his convalescence realized he had cared little about the faith that had received him and had been imparted to him by his father, who was also so daimyo, and converted to Catholicism, having Ukon baptized at age twelve, and giving him the name Justus, or Iusto. After his coming-of-age celebration he was named as Shigetomo (重友). However he is better known as Takayama Ukon (高山右近).

But then disaster struck, initiated by the lies and boasts of the Spanish captain of the ship San Felipe. On its voyage from the Philippines to Mexico it ran into a roaring cyclone that tore off the masts and sails and dumped it on the Japanese coast – with most of the cargo and crew intact. By Japanese custom the local Daimyo looked after the crew, but the cargo was his.

When the ship’s captain was told this he responded with a lie and a threat. “You’ve seen the Spanish missionaries in Japan. Well they are the forerunners of the Spanish Army who will soon come and make Japan a colony. You will be in big trouble then if you have stolen my cargo.” This threat was relayed to Shogun Hideyoshi, the generalissimo and real ruler of Japan – the Emperor was a powerful symbol, eking out cultured boredom in a gilded cage in Kyoto.

The Shogun looked apprehensively at the Philippines and Mexico, and the seemingly unstoppable armies from Europe. This set the scene for the persecution of Christians in Japan.

The Shogun waited because he wanted to continue trade with Europeans via their ships. But early in 1597 he struck a fierce blow – a total ban on Japanese Christian and western missionaries. He now decided to terrorize every Japanese Christian and foreign missionary by public and gruesome executions in Nagasaki, where Christians were numerous. Famous Christian Daimyo Takayama would head the list of about 20, or so, missionaries and Japanese Christians to be executed.

These “criminals” would have ears sliced off, loaded into open carts and paraded around the capital city Kyoto. Then guarded by unmerciful samurai they would be forced to march to Nagasaki, 30 days away, during the coldest time of the year. There they would be fastened to crosses in mockery of this foreign Christian religion.

The local governor was ordered to make as many citizens as possible attend. Everything was to be unhurried and drawn out, to heighten the terror for both the crucified and the onlookers.

Finally the two samurai, who had been standing right under each of the crucified, with the steel tip of a lance very visible, would thrust the lance deep and up under the rib cage of the crucified. The last punishment was the refusal of burial for their corpse that would remain on the crosses until they rotted away.

The Shogun’s advisors did not oppose the gory executions but they advised the Shogun that Daimyo Takayama was too highly respected, famous throughout Japan as a man of great courage and ability, and a lover of the highest expressions of Japanese culture – the Way of the classical Tea Ceremony, Haiku poetry, fine calligraphy – and a brilliant designer of Daimyo castles.

The advisors dared not raise with lecherous Hideyoshi another reason for Takayama’s fame – his total faithfulness to his wife Justa Kuroda, in an era of sexual abandon among the powerful men of the land. His advisors suggested that crucifying Daimyo Takayama like a common criminal could cause dangerous resentment and possibly harm to the Shogun’s “great reputation”.

So Shogun Hideyoshi took Takayama off the list of those to be executed on February 6, 1597. However the merciless Shogun was angry that Takayama still lived publically as a Christian, despite the Shogun outlawing Christianity.

To backtrack some years, Sen no Rikyu, still venerated by most Japanese, was the acknowledged creator of the fully developed Japanese Tea Ceremony, “Chado”, The Way of Tea, which was fast becoming the quintessence of Japanese refinement and culture for the ruling classes. The Tea Ceremony is not like a casual cup of tea with friends.

The Tea Ceremony is conducted mostly in silence, taking an hour or more, and is acted out according to a solemn ritual full of spiritual symbols. Often when Japanese Tea Ceremony people attend Mass for the first time they will say the Mass reminded them of their much loved Tea discipline.

This famous and venerated Sen no Rikyu had publically named the young Daimyo Takayama Ukon as one of his seven “mana deshi” – “most beloved disciple” – among the many Japanese who now practised the Tea cultural expression he created. Shogun Hideyoshi, who was also a follower of this Way of Tea, of course knew Sen no Kikyu personally.

He called Rokyu to his castle, and ordered him to visit Takayama with this stern warning. “I order you to renounce your Christian beliefs. I am your liege lord. If you do not obey me you are betraying ‘bushido’, the Way of the Samurai. The whole warrior class in Japan, from the Shogun to humblest samurai, vows to follow this Way until death. Bushido demands total obedience to your liege lord. I as Shogun am your liege lord and order you to renounce this foreign religion. If you refuse to obey you are breaking the bushido vow, and will have to suffer the consequences.” The consequences the Shogun referred to was the duty of hara kiri (seppuku), the ritualistic disembowelling of oneself with a short sword.

To crafty Hideyoshi the spirited Daimyo Takayama replied immediately and masterfully, neither rejecting bushido nor his Christian faith: “I accept Shogun Hideyoshi as my liege lord on this earth. But, higher than my earthly bushido obligation is my totally absolute obligation to obey Jesus, my Divine liege Lord, the Heavenly liege Lord of all earthly lords. I cannot renounce Him from whom I have received life itself, and the promise of eternal salvation.”


-model of Takatsuki Castle in the Edo Period, please click on the image for greater detail.  The castle was founded in the 10th century AD. Takatsuki was an important commercial and transportation hub because it was between Osaka and Kyoto. The Saigoku road, which connected Nishinomiya (in Kobe) with Kyoto, went through the town as well as did the Yodo River. As a result, the castle was the largest in the Hokusetsu region of what now comprises the northern parts of the Osaka municipality. Ukon helped to develop a thriving castle town. In 1581, Takayama Ukon built a church within the castle grounds and invited missionaries to administer to the local people. There were about 18,000 Christians living in the castle town around Takatsuki Castle.

The Nagai (original patriarch, Nagai Naokiyo, gained control of the castle in 1649. The Nagai ruled for 13 generations until the end of the Edo Period when it was abandoned in 1871. This family gradually increased the size of the castle and expanded its moats outward from when it was a Sengoku period castle. The castle was about 630 meters long and 510 meters wide after the last round of expansion. Unfortunately, it was destroyed after the Meiji Restoration and the castle’s wood from buildings, and stone walls, were repurposed to build the train line between Mukomachi and Osaka in 1874. The stones of the castle were smashed into rocks to be used for the rail bed that was built to connect Osaka with Kyoto.

One of the original castle gates can still be found at Hongyoji Temple. Some Japanese castle books have also suggested that the Karamon at Nagai Shrine is an original castle gate from Takatsuki Castle. The family crest of the Nagai Clan can be seen on the water trough just inside the entrance of Nagai Shrine.

When Shogun Hideyoshi received Takayama’s reply from Sen no Rikyu he was infuriated. He ordered the immediate seizure of Takayama, his castle, lands and all his possessions, reducing him to the ignominious, lowest rank of a samurai, masterless “ronin”, whom no Daimyo could employ or shelter. Takayama, his wife and family were banished to an inhospitable area of Kanazawa in the present day Ishikawa Prefecture. Homeless ex-Daimyo Takayama first went to the Jesuit house at Arie, asking to be allowed to do a week’s retreat based on St Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.

Takayama was a great admirer of St Ignatius of Loyola, SJ who once was a knight. The converted Ignatius chose poverty to follow Christ. Samurai Takayama told his wife and family that they now had the opportunity to do the same for Christ. Fortified by the Ignatian retreat, and at peace, Takayama asked for the prayers of the Jesuits and then led his family to what became a hand-to-mouth existence in a hostile environment. Ukon continued to spread Catholicism.

Ukon lived under the protection of his allies for several decades but in 1614 Tokugawa Ieyasu (the new shogun, after Hideyoshi died only one year after impoverishing Ukon and his family) prohibited the Christian faith which witnessed Ukon’s expulsion from Japan.

The shogun knew ex-Daimyo Takayama was spreading Christianity in the provinces and sent a grim message to him. Takayama ignored it. Some new friends advised Takayama to save himself and his family by a “seeming” obedience to Tokugawa’s order. Takayama replied, “For a man who has a sense of honour, and is firmly convinced of his Christian religion, it is inadmissible to even speak of such cowardice.”

Shogun Tokugawa then sent samurai to arrest Takayama and bring him bound to Kyoto. There Tokugawa worked on still famous Takayama for seven months, alternating between enticements of rewards and savage death threats. Takayama remained rock solid for Christ.

On 8 November 1614, Takayama, his wife Justa Kuroda, their daughter and their five grandchildren, 350 missionaries and Japanese Christian laymen were put on a small boat and deported to Manila.

He arrived to Manila on 11 December 1614 where he received a warm welcome from the Spanish Jesuits and the local Filipinos. The governor Juan de Silva wished to provide him with an income to support him and his relations but he declined this offer since he said he was no longer in a position to offer his services in exchange for income but neither did he wish to act like a lord.

The colonial government of Spanish Philippines offered to overthrow the Japanese Empire through an invasion of Japan in order to protect the Japanese Christians and place him into a position of great power and influence. Ukon declined to participate and was even opposed to the plan. He died of illness at midnight on 3 or 5 February 1615 just a mere 40 days after having arrived in Manila after having suffered from a violent fever. Upon his death the Spanish government gave him a Christian burial replete with full military honors befitting a daimyō. His remains were buried in the Jesuit church of San Ignacio Church in Intramuros and this made him the only daimyō to be buried on Philippine soil.


-This statue is found on the grounds of the city of Takatsuki’s functional Catholic Church, The Grand Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of Osaka, Japan.  It is modeled on the cathedral outside Manila, where Takayama spent his last days. This statue is located on the cathedral grounds, near the site where the church Takayama built his original church in 1574, please click on the image for greater detail.


-statues of Bl Takayama Ukon in the Philippines. The first four of the same statue, and the plaque below, are in Plaza Dilao, Paco, Manila, Luzon, Philippines, and the image immediately above of one unveiled 28 March 2017, “Samurai of Christ”, Thomas Aquinas Research Center at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines


-medallion commemorating the beatification of Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon

Prayer for intercession

“O God, in Your Wonderful Providence, You have chosen Justus Ukon Takayama to be a singular promoter of Your Kingdom, and an undaunted witness to the Catholic Faith — Reward, we beseech you, his zeal for Your Glory, and graciously grant us what we humbly ask through his intercession. Grant us also that following his example, we may bravely bear all trials for the sake of our holy Catholic Faith. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Prayer for canonization

“O God, you desire the salvation of all people. Sustained by your grace, Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon followed the Gospel faithfully, and, rejecting all worldly rank and honors, achieved martyrdom by exile from his homeland.

We humbly pray, that Blessed Justo Ukon, who by freely accepting many hardships, gave powerful witness to Your love, may become a source of hope to people throughout the world, and soon be numbered among your saints.

Merciful Father, through the intercession of Blessed Justo Ukon, please hear our fervent prayers. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Father Anton Witwer, SJ, general postulator of the Society of Jesus, explained in 2014, “Since Takayama died in exile because of the weaknesses caused by the maltreatments he suffered in his homeland, the process … is that of a martyr.”

Love,
Matthew

Feb 6 – Twenty-six crosses on a hill & “Silence”, the movie: love is stronger than death, 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seijin


-1628 engraving, please click on the image for greater detail


-monument to the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki, 1962, please click on the image for greater detail

With the Oscars last night, will Hollywood ever tell this story, instead of apostasy? I doubt it. One of the reasons I started this blog, to, in my own small way, tell the brilliance of saints. When Christian missionaries returned to Japan 250 years later, they found a community of “hidden Catholics” that had survived underground.

Jn 11:25


-by Matthew E. Bunson

“A group of twenty-six Christians gave their lives for Christ on a hill near Nagasaki, Japan, on February 5, 1597. They are noteworthy not only for the zeal they showed as they died as martyrs, but for the model they provided to Japanese Christians for centuries to come. Their story reminds us that heroic examples of the Catholic faith transcend country and race.

Jesuit Beginnings

The Catholic faith was introduced into Japan on August 15, 1549 by the great Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, SJ, who landed on the Japanese island of Kyushu with two fellow Jesuits, Cosme de Torres, SJ, and John Fernandez, SJ. Francis soon learned of the prevailing political situation. Despite the emperor’s traditionally accepted divine origins, he had little authority; instead the local lords (daimyo) exercised extensive powers. Francis concentrated on winning the confidence of the daimyo in the area, and on September 29, he visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, and asked for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo readily agreed to his request, believing that such a church might help to establish a trade relationship with Europe.

Francis mastered Japanese, then took his preaching into the neighboring island of Honshu, the main island in the Japanese archipelago. Within six years, six hundred Japanese converted to the faith in one province alone. But the rapid growth of the new faith soon provoked a sharp reaction. In 1561, the daimyo of several provinces launched a persecution that compelled Christians to abjure their faith.

Surprisingly, the Shogunate of Japan initially gave its support to the enterprise of evangelization. Primarily the shoguns believed the new religion might curb the influence of the sometimes-troublesome Buddhist monks in the islands, but they also thought it would facilitate trade with the outside world. Nevertheless, the Japanese officials were suspicious of the long-term intentions of the representatives of Spain and Portugal, most so because they were aware of the expanding Spanish Empire in Asia and the Pacific.

The labors of Francis Xavier were carried on and furthered by the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, who arrived in 1579. This remarkable missionary opened a school to teach new mission workers, established seminaries, and promoted vocations for the Jesuits among the inhabitants. By around 1580, eighty missionaries were caring for more than one hundred fifty-thousand Christians, including the daimyo Arima Harunobu.

In Rome, Pope Gregory XIII declared his immense satisfaction with the work of the Jesuits and issued the decreed Ex Pastorale Officio in 1585. He declared that the Japanese missions were the exclusive territory of the Society of Jesus. Two years later, the first diocese was created at Funai (modern Oita).


-St Francisco Blanco OFM, Lima, Peru, please click on the image for greater detail”

Change in Politics

Several events soon transpired that changed the tolerant atmosphere. First, assorted Catholic missionaries who lacked the subtlety of the Jesuits arrived in Japan and failed to respect Pope Gregory’s decree. Their aggressive manner offended many Japanese, especially those who feared that Christianity was merely a prelude to invasion by the European powers. Thus, by 1587, when there were over 200,000 Christians in Japan, an initial edict of persecution was instituted by the country’s regent, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nearly 150 churches were destroyed and missionaries were condemned to exile from the islands. The missionaries declined to leave and found safe haven in various parts of Japan. As a result of the persecution, within a decade the number of Christians had increased by 100,000.

The second major turning point occurred on August 26, 1596, when the San Felipe, a Spanish trade ship traveling from Manila to North America, ran aground off the coast of Shikoku, the southeastern island of Japan. Angered by the violation of Japanese territory, Hideyoshi ordered that the cargo be confiscated, and among the items seized were several cannons. The discovery alarmed Japanese officials, and the ship’s pilot made matters worse. Furious over the loss of his cargo, he threatened the Japanese with military action by Spain, an invasion, he claimed, that would be assisted by the Christian missionaries in the country.

The threats were complete fabrications, of course, but Hideyoshi used the occasion to seize the ship and then to launch the first major anti-Christian persecution in the history of Japan. In 1597, the same year as the arrival of the first bishop, Pierre Martinez, S.J., the government launched its pogrom. The Christian religion was banned, and those who refused to abjure the faith were to be condemned to death.

The initial public execution took place at Nagasaki, a city that had become the center of the Christian faith in Japan. The first martyrs were Paul Miki and his companions.


-drawing remembering 26 Catholic martyrs of Nagasaki, please click on the image for greater detail

Marked for Death

Born around 1564, Paul Miki was the son of a Japanese soldier, Miki Handayu. He was educated by the Jesuits and joined the Society of Jesus in 1580, the first Japanese to enter any religious order. Paul swiftly earned a reputation for the eloquence of his preaching. He was on the verge of ordination when he was arrested and thrown together with twenty-four other Catholics condemned to die in the name of the emperor. With Paul were six European Franciscan missionaries, two other Japanese Jesuits and sixteen Japanese laymen. The laymen included Cosmas Takeya, a sword maker; Paul Ibaraki, a member of a distinguished samurai family; and his brother Leo Karasumaru, who had been a Buddhist monk. Also arrested were Louis Ibaraki, twelve, a nephew of Paul Ibaraki and Leo Karasumaru; and thirteen-year-old Anthony of Nagasaki.

The martyrs were assembled at Kyoto, condemned to die, and then ordered to be taken to Nagasaki for their execution. As was customary, the prisoners had their left ears cut off prior to setting out so that they would be marked as condemned. The march to Nagasaki lasted a month. Along the way the men suffered the tortures of their captors and the jibes of crowds, but they also won the respect of many onlookers as they marched, bleeding and exhausted but still praying and singing. One Japanese Christian layman named Francis—a carpenter from Kyoto—decided to follow the martyrs as they progressed until he was arrested himself and expressed his joy at being included among them.

After the grueling trek from Kyoto, the condemned arrived at last at the place of their martyrdom, the city of Nagasaki. At ten in the morning on February 5, they were led along the highway from Tokitsu to Omura, and then commanded to stop at a small cluster of hills at the base of Mount Kompira. At the lowest of these hills, called Nishizaka, common criminals were put to death, and the lingering smell of rotting corpses could be detected. All was in readiness: Twenty-six crosses awaited the Christians.

Seeing the horrendous surroundings, several Portuguese merchants went to the brother of the governor, Terazawa Hazaburo, and asked him to intervene and at least have the place of execution moved. The governor, Ierazawa Hazaburo, was willing to listen to their plea, especially as his brother was a friend of Paul Miki. As it happened, across the road from the hill of Nishizaka was a lovely field of wheat, and the governor decreed that the executions could be carried out there.


-crucifixion of the martyrs of Nagasaki. A painting in the Franciscan convent of the Lady of the Snows in Prague, please click on the image for greater detail.

Calm amid Horror

At the wheat field, the martyrs were divided by the soldiers into three groups, each one headed by a Franciscan reciting the rosary. Each of the martyrs had his own cross, the wood cut to his height. Gonzalo Garcia, the forty-year-old Franciscan lay brother from India, was the first to be led to his cross. He was shown the instrument of his imminent death, and he knelt to kiss it. Today, he is venerated as the patron saint of Mumbai. Following his example, the martyrs one by one embraced the wooden crosses before them.

Unlike the Romans, the Japanese officials did not use nails. Instead, they fixed the martyrs to their crosses by iron rings around the neck, hands, and feet and ropes tightly binding the waist. The one exception was the Spanish Franciscan priest, Peter Bautista, Superior of the Franciscan Mission in Japan. This former ambassador from Spain (who had devoted his ministry for some years to lepers) stretched out his hands and instructed the executioners to use nails. Paul Miki, meanwhile, proved shorter than his cross had been measured. As his feet did not reach the lower rings, the executioners tied him down at the chest with rope and linens.

With their victims affixed, the soldiers and executioners simultaneously lifted the crosses. As history has demonstrated many times before and after, the crowd that had gathered for amusement at the expense of the dying fell silent as the large crosses thudded into the holes in the earth and the martyrs exhaled in agony from the jarring drop. On the hill with them were four thousand Catholics from Nagasaki. Young Anthony looked down and beheld his family at the front of the crowd, and he spoke words of hope to them.

Then, just as each had embraced his cross, the martyrs one by one began to sing hymns of praise, the Te Deum and the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. The victims struggled to sing and to raise their voices to God one last time. From his cross, Paul Miki also preached for the last time. Seeing the edict of death hanging from one soldier’s long, curved spear for all to see, he responded to the charge, his voice carrying across the hills:

I did not come from the Philippines. I am a Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am very happy to die for such a cause, and see my death as a great blessing from the Lord. At this critical time, when you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian way. (Luis Frois, Martyrs’ Records)

And then the martyrs began their final minutes. The first to die was the Mexican Franciscan Brother Philip de Jesus, who had also been measured incorrectly, so his entire weight was placed on the ring around his neck. He slowly choked to death, until the order was given for two soldiers to pierce his chest on either side with their spears. The soldiers, in pairs, thrust their spears into each side of the remaining victims until the blades literally crossed each other. Death was virtually instantaneous. The martyrs accepted their end with the same prayerful calm that marked their ascent upon the crosses. The gathered crowd, however, cried out in anguish, and the din could be heard in the city of Nagasaki below. Many Japanese who watched the horror unfold became Christians themselves in the coming weeks and months. For the soldiers, the scene proved too much, and many began to weep at the courage of the dead Christians, especially young Louis Ibaraki who cried out, “Jesus . . . Mary” with his last breath.

With the execution over, the Christians in the crowd surged forward to soak up the blood of the martyrs in cloths and to remove small pieces of clothing to preserve as relics. Driven away forcibly by the guards, the crowds slowly dispersed, turning back to see the last rays of the sun framing the twenty-six crosses in stark relief.


-Catholic martyrs of Nagasaki, please click on the image for greater detail

Love is Stronger than Death

After dark, more people gathered. Christians from Nagasaki arrived to pray for the martyrs. In the days following, thousands more made a pilgrimage to the site. Peasants, local daimyo, soldiers, and foreigners stopped at the hill and remained there transfixed in prayer or amazement until the guards forced them away. Word spread across Japan, and the example of the twenty-six martyrs became the rallying cry for Christians.

The people of Nagasaki christened Nishizaka the “Martyrs’ Hill.” The next year, an ambassador from the Philippines was given permission by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to gather up the remains and the crosses. Pilgrims continued to visit the site, and the best efforts of officials could not stop new visits, both public and clandestine.

Paul Miki and his Companions proved the first of many thousands of martyrs in the church of Japan. Sporadic persecutions were conducted over subsequent years, erupting in 1613 under the sharp campaign of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), who considered Christianity to be detrimental to the good of Japan and the social order he was instituting. The next year, all missionaries were expelled and Japanese converts were commanded to abjure the faith. Long-simmering resentment against the persecutions culminated in a Christian uprising in 1637. This was mercilessly put down, and the once-flourishing Church in Japan seemed dead. Foreigners were forbidden to enter the country on pain of death.

The Church outside of Japan did not forget Paul Miki and his companions. The Twenty-Six Martyrs were beatified on September 15, 1627 under Pope Urban VIII, and they were canonized in 1862 by Pope Blessed Pius IX, making them the first canonized martyrs of the Far East. But then came a truly astonishing turn of events. In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States arrived in Japan, and for the first time in two centuries, the country established official contact with the outside world. To the utter shock of Westerners, the Japanese Christians had not abandoned the faith despite brutal persecution. For two centuries, they had practiced the faith in secret. In 1865, priests from the Foreign Missions discovered twenty thousand Christians on the island of Kyushu alone. Religious liberty was at last granted in 1873 by the imperial government. What had sustained these Christians in the long dark years was their trust in Christ and the examples of those who had died for the faith. Foremost in their memory were the Twenty-Six Martyrs upon Nishizaka Hill.

Today, the site of the Twenty-Six Martyrs remains a beloved place of pilgrimage, and they are honored by the Monument of the 26 Martyrs erected in 1962, as well as a shrine and a museum. Thousands of visitors arrive every year. One of them, in 1981, was Pope John Paul II. He declared during his visit:

“On Nishizaka, on February 5, 1597, twenty-six martyrs testified to the power of the Cross; they were the first of a rich harvest of martyrs, for many more would subsequently hallow this ground with their suffering and death. . . . Today, I come to the Martyrs’ Hill to bear witness to the primacy of love in the world. In this holy place, people of all walks of life gave proof that love is stronger than death.

Foreign Franciscan missionaries – Alcantarines

Saint Martin of the Ascension
Saint Pedro Bautista
Saint Philip of Jesus
Saint Francisco Blanco
Saint Francisco of Saint Michael
Saint Gundisalvus (Gonsalvo) Garcia

Japanese Franciscan tertiaries

Saint Antony Dainan
Saint Bonaventure of Miyako
Saint Cosmas Takeya
Saint Francisco of Nagasaki
Saint Francis Kichi
Saint Gabriel de Duisco
Saint Joachim Sakakibara
Saint John Kisaka
Saint Leo Karasumaru
Saint Louis Ibaraki
Saint Matthias of Miyako
Saint Michael Kozaki
Saint Paul Ibaraki
Saint Paul Suzuki
Saint Pedro Sukejiroo
Saint Thomas Kozaki
Saint Thomas Xico

Japanese Jesuits

Saint James Kisai
Saint John Soan de Goto
Saint Paul Miki

O God our Father, source of strength to all your saints, Who brought the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of life eternal: Grant that we, being encouraged by their example, may hold fast the faith we profess, even to death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Love of Him,
Matthew

Sin, moral failure, apostasy, & spiritual death


-partial restoration of “Hasekura in Prayer” following his conversion in Madrid, 1615, author unknown


-by Rev John Bartunek, LC

“…whether a person is struggling with idealism or cynicism, those feelings need to be identified and put in their proper place; we must make our decisions not based just on feelings, but based first and foremost on moral truth. Just as an idealistic husband has to learn to identify and accept the flaws of his young wife and continue to love her, so a cynical husband has to learn to see the inner beauty and goodness of his wife in order to continue honoring, loving, and revering her as God wants him to. Neither idealism nor cynicism, as understandable as they may be, can excuse sin. And publicly denouncing the divinity of Christ or one’s adherence to him as Lord…is a fault against the first commandment (CCC 2089).

Someone’s degree of culpability may certainly be diminished by circumstances like those faced by the characters in Silence. Likewise, individuals may repent of their sins and return to the faith. Only God knows the whole story of each person’s struggles, and only God can accurately judge the level of culpability, even though we all may be able to see the objective evil of a sinful action. This is why Jesus tells us: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

But we must be careful to avoid calling right something that is wrong. Many martyrs in the history of the Church refused to renounce their faith in the face of horrible pressures. It would have been more convenient for them and for others if they had simply renounced their faith in Jesus. And yet, they didn’t. The Church holds these martyrs up to us as models of courage and trust in God, as witnesses of a reality that goes well beyond the joys and sufferings of this earth: the reality of divine truth, eternal life, and friendship with God. A public denial of one’s faith in God may lead to the preservation of someone else’s physical life, but it may scandalize them to the point where they abandon their faith, perhaps putting their eternal salvation in danger. Scandal, too, is a dangerous sin:

“Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death.” (CCC 2284).”

“(from the Catholic Dictionary, CatholicCulture.org) Spiritual death is the state of the soul in mortal sin, based on the analogy with bodily death. Just as a physical body may be not only ill or suffer injury, but cease to retain its principle of life, so the soul can lose sanctifying grace through mortal sin and supernaturally cease to live. It is, therefore, spiritually dead because it is no longer united with God, who gives it supernatural life, even as a body is dead on separation from its animating principle, which is the soul. While still on earth, this union with God is both a possession and a movement. We possess Him by grace and in faith, and we are moving toward Him in the beatific vision of glory. When persons sin mortally, they are twice dead: once because they lose the gift of divine life they formerly had, and once again because they are no longer moving toward the consummation of that life in heaven.

Mortal sins are no longer remissible by any power within the soul itself, much as the human body, once dead, cannot be brought back to life except by a special intervention of God. In Patristic literature the restoration is compared with the resuscitation of Lazarus. The exercise of Almighty power in either case is the same. “Everyone who sins, dies,” says St. Augustine. Only the Lord, “by His great grace and great mercy raises souls to life again, that we may not die eternally” (In Joannis Evangelium,49). Only infinite mercy can reconcile the grave sinner.”

Love,
Matthew

Feb 6 – St Paul Miki, SJ & Companions; Christian Martrydom? Is it REALLY about death? 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seijin


-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“Thanks to secularization, modern people easily forget the true meaning of Christian words. Take, for instance, the saints we celebrate today: St. Paul Miki and his companions were martyred in 1597 on the outskirts of Nagasaki, Japan. A witness to the execution records St. Paul Miki’s final sermon:

‘As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.’

St. Paul Miki, a martyr for the faith; and yet I find many people don’t understand what martyrdom is about. Perhaps you have had this experience, but on a number of occasions people have asked me why Christian martyrdom is okay but Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombing is not. “They are both about dying for faith,” one hears. Leaving aside for now the issue of Islamic fundamentalists, this is a good time to reflect on why Christian martyrdom is not really about death.

St. Thomas follows the classical tradition in classifying actions according to their object, or end. So the act of eating is about food, the act of reading is about words on a page, the act of shooting is about hitting a target. Ends are essential in the definition of the act. Now, this doesn’t mean that circumstances are unimportant; it just means they are extrinsic to the act itself. So, for instance, the act of reading is essentially the same whether one reads a book, magazine, computer screen, billboard, etc. The circumstances can add moral qualifications to the action (shooting skeet with a bazooka is morally different when it is done in the middle of a country field rather than at a busy airport), but the essence of the act remains the same. Make sense? Good.

What is the essential act of martyrdom? What is its end? Here’s the point: it is not death. The martyr does not seek death as the end or object of his or her act. That is called suicide, no matter how noble the cause. The martyr would be just as happy not dying because of a confession of faith. Witness Peter and John in Acts 5, first being let out of prison by an angel and then rejoicing after only a slight beating upon recapture. They were ready to die for the faith (and Peter eventually would), but they didn’t stay in jail in the hopes of death, nor did they leave the Sadducees downcast because they only received a good drubbing. They had preached and witnessed to Christ; that was the essential part.

St. Thomas highlights this aspect in his discussion of martyrdom in the Summa Theologiae:

“Martyrdom consists essentially in standing firmly to truth and justice against the assaults of persecution” (ST II-II, q. 124, a. 1, corpus). Martyrdom, for St. Thomas, is a special act of fortitude, a “standing firm” in the face of death. But death is not the goal. St. Thomas explains: “endurance of death is not praiseworthy in itself, but only in so far as it is directed to some good consisting in an act of virtue, such as faith or the love of God” (ST II-II, q. 124, a. 3, corpus). Now, of course, death is rightly associated with martyrdom, wherein the Christian’s virtuous “endurance” is rendered in the most perfect fashion. St. Thomas explains: “A martyr is so called as being a witness to the Christian faith, which teaches us to despise things visible for the sake of things invisible… therefore the perfect notion of martyrdom requires that a man suffer death for Christ’s sake” (ST II-II, q. 124, a. 4, corpus).

A (Christian) martyr is one who dies not for death’s sake, but for Christ’s sake, which makes all the difference in the world. Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P., explains: “Theological faith provides the specific adherence that distinguishes Christian martyrdom from political assassination or dying for an ideological cause.” There is a certain passivity in the martyr, which is absent in the suicide bomber: something akin to the passivity of Christ on the cross. The martyr suffers death; he does not seek it.  (Ed. heretic Montantists actively sought martyrdom from the Romans.  Catholics were discouraged by the Church from actively seeking this.  Accept if unavoidable in witness to Christ, but do NOT pursue death FOR ITS OWN SAKE.  Never.)

This understanding of martyrdom raises two important points. First, every Christian should have a bit of martyr in him or her, at least by way of similitude. Whenever we are called to witness to the difference Christ makes in our lives – in word or deed, and in the face of opposition – we can, like St. Paul Miki and his Companions, ask for the gift of fortitude, in whatever dose we need for the situation. Second, this brings a new seriousness to any act of witness. One of the crucial theological debates of the early Church was what to do with Christians who failed to witness to the faith during persecution. The early Church took witnessing to Christ seriously, even if it did not always end in death. Do we?”

What martyrdom are we/am I willing to endure for Him?  Time?  Work?  Convenience? Comfort? Legal?  Opposing unjust laws?  Seeking equity in society and resources?  Arrest?  Record?  Incarceration?  Social?  Professional?  Reputational?  Familial?  Financial?  Ecclesial? Political?  Paternal/Maternal/Fraternal?  Marital? (reading Matt’s prattling blog?)  🙂

As gentle, edifying Lenten sacrifice/mortification approaches, let’s give this important/vital/life giving thought some solemn, quiet consideration, and respond as the Spirit directs.  All grace required to accomplish will be supplied.  I promise.  🙂  Phil 3:8.

Prayer

O Christ, the source of endless life,
We bring you thanks and praise today
That martyrs bold your name confessed
And, through their pain, held to your Way.

The gospel preached within Japan
Converted both adult and child,
And flourished there by your rich grace
Despite oppression fierce and wild.

When hatred for this infant church
Broke out in persecution’s might,
Your martyrs knew You as their Lord
Who shined in darkness as their Light.

O Father, Son, and Spirit blest,
To You all glory now is due.
As were the Martyrs of Japan,
May we to Christ be ever true!

Love,
Matthew

Feb 6 – St Paul Miki, SJ, (1562-1597) & Companions, Martyrs of Nagasaki, 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seijin

saint_paul_miki_by_tesm-d4pbn9o

The cross bears the Kanji of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The left spear bears the ancient Greek abbreviations for
“Iesus Christos Nika!” which means “Jesus Christ Conquers” or “Jesus Christ, victor!”

The right spear bears the line from the cross of St. Benedict, which reads “Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux” which means “May the holy cross be my light!”

During 1593, Franciscan missionaries came to Japan from the Philippines by order of Spain’s King Philip II. These new arrivals gave themselves zealously to the work of charity and evangelism, but their presence disturbed a delicate situation between the Church and Japanese authorities.

Suspicion against Catholic missionaries grew when a Spanish ship was seized off the Japanese coast and found to be carrying artillery. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a powerful imperial minister, responded by sentencing 26 Catholics to death.

Nagasaki, Japan, is familiar to Americans as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped, killing hundreds of thousands. Three and a half centuries before, 26 martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki.

Today the Church commemorates twenty-six martyrs, three Jesuits
and six Franciscans, crucified in Nagasaki, Japan, on February 5, 1597. Most were Japanese and most were laypersons and they were among the first martyrs of a young Church. The names of the martyrs are:

The Franciscans

Fathers Peter Baptist, Martin of the Ascension, Francis Blanco; Seminarian Philip of Jesus; Brothers Gonsalvo Garzia, Francis of St Michael with seventeen native Franciscan Tertiaries

The Jesuits

Seminarians Paul Miki, John Goto, and Brother James Kisai

Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and His Church.

Paul Miki was born into a rich family. His father was an important military leader.  He was educated by Jesuits in Azuchi and Takatsuki. He joined the Society of Jesus and preached the gospel for his fellow citizens. The Japanese government feared Jesuit influences and persecuted them. Miki was jailed among others on the order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the national ruler, for preaching Christianity. They were imprisoned, then later marched through the snow to Nagasaki, so that their execution might serve as a deterrent to Nagasaki’s large Christian population. Paul Miki, SJ, and his fellow Christians were forced to walk 600 miles (≈966 kilometers) from Kyoto while singing “Te Deum” as a punishment for the community. Hung up on 26 crosses with chains and ropes, the Christians were lanced to death in front of a large crowd on Nishizaka Hill.

Brother Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution: “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that they had secretly preserved the faith. Beatified in 1627, the martyrs of Japan were finally canonized in 1862.

Exhibits at the Twenty-six Martyrs Museum and Monument (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-Six_Martyrs_Museum_and_Monument) include “fumi-e“, literally “step-on pictures” or treading images. Every year from 1629 to 1857, Nagasaki residents were forced to go through a ritual of stepping on bronze images of Christ or Mary to prove they were not Christians.

-“fumi-e”, treading images, notice the worn away details from being stepped on, please click on the images for greater detail.  A metaphor for our time?

“Since Jesus, the Son of God, showed his love by laying down his life for us, no one has greater love than they who lay down their lives for Him and for their sisters and brothers (see 1 John 3:16; John 15:13).

Some Christians have been called from the beginning, and will always be called, to give this greatest testimony of love to everyone, especially to persecutors.

Martyrdom makes disciples like their Master, who willingly accepted death for the salvation of the world, and through it they are made like Him by the shedding of blood.

Therefore, the Church considers it the highest gift and as the supreme test of love. And while it is given to few, all, however, must be prepared to confess Christ before humanity and to follow Him along the way of the cross amid the persecutions which the Church never lacks” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 42, Austin Flannery translation).

Foreign Franciscan missionaries – Alcantarines

Japanese Franciscan tertiaries

Japanese Jesuits

Love,
Matthew