Feast day: 6 February
When Francis Xavier and other missionaries came to Japan in the mid-sixteenth century, they were generally welcomed. However when Hideyoshi came to power, he feared that the Christians would take over the government and he banished them in 1587, destroying many churches. King Philip II of Spain had sent Franciscan missionaries from the Philipines and their presence disturbed the delicate balance between the church and the authorities. A Spanish ship was seized and was found to be carrying artillery. Some missionary priests stayed on and went into hiding, dressing as Japanese, so that they could continue ministering to the Christians. On 8 December 1596 Hideyoshi arrested and condemned to death the friars of Miako. In the group were three Japanese Jesuits, six Franciscans (four of them Spanish) and seventeen Japanese laymen. One was only a boy and three were teenagers. Their crime was attempting to harm the government and their punishment was crucifixion. The best known was Paul Miki, who was Japanese and of noble birth; he was a Jesuit brother and a brilliant preacher.
They were tortured and then forced to walk for three hundred miles through snow, ice and freezing streams. Along the way they preached to the people who had come to see them. They sang psalms of praise and joy, recited the rosary and told the onlookers that their martyrdom was an occasion of joy rather than sorrow. On 5 February they reached Nagasaki, where twenty six crosses stood on a hill. This is now called the Holy Mountain. Each man was bound by iron bands and then lances were thrust through their bodies. It was hoped that the spectacle would frighten other Christians but it had the opposite effect. In 1858 Christianity was permitted again in Japan. Missionaries who arrived were astonished to find thousands of Christians living there. They had carried on their faith in secret.
Paul Miki was born in Japan in 1562. and educated by the Jesuits. He would have been the very first Japanese priest if he had not been executed, for he had completed his studies. From his cross he forgave his persecutors and told the people to ask Christ how to be truly happy. He proclaimed from his cross, “The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ."
The twenty six martyrs were canonised by Pope Pius IX in 1862.
St Paul Miki and companions, martyrs of Japan, pray for us.