Monday, February 6, 2012

St Paul Miki and companions

The Japanese martyrs in a painting by an unknown artist
The 26 Martyrs of Japan we honor today refers to a group of Christians who were executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki. Their martyrdom is especially significant in the history of Roman Catholicism in Japan. As many as 300,000 Christians were in Japan towards the end of the 16th century, but most of them met complications from competition between the missionary groups. Christianity was suppressed, and it was during this time that the 26 martyrs were executed. By 1630, Christianity had been driven underground. Two hundred and fifty years later, when Christian missionaries returned to Japan, they found a community of "hidden Christians" that had survived underground. 
On February 5, 1597, 26 Christians – six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys, who were all members of the Third Order of St. Francis – were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki on the orders of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears. While there were many more martyrs, the first martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of which was Paul Miki. The Martyrs of Japan were canonized on June 8, 1862 by Blessed Pius IX. Unfortunately Nagasaki would become known as the second city on which the atom bomb was dropped during World War II, the other city being Hiroshima, also in Japan.

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