February 6th 1597 - Paul Miki and Companions
† in Nagasaki
In the year 1542 the Japanese group of islands was discovered by the Portuguese. 1549 Francis Xaver went ashore there and converted with his companions in two years many Japanese from all social classes. After him members of other religious orders, particularly Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians came into the country. They established chapels, schools and hospitals. Thirty years after Xaver there were about 200.000 Christians in Japan.
Envy, suspicions and open hate led to bloody persecutions. During the 250 years of persecution the loyalty of many Catholics was unparalleled. Many were crucified or burned, others mutilated heinously or tortured to death in glowing hot springs of sulphur. Beyond thought were the agonies of those who, bound at hands and feet, hang with their heads downwards into stinking earth holes until they suffocated. Japan has perhaps the longest and cruellest martyr history of the Catholic Church.
A popular method to recognize Christians was the nightmare 'Efumi', the treading upon pictures. So all the inhabitants of the city Nagasaki had to appear in the municipal hall and there to tread with their feet upon a picture of Christ or of Our Lady, and to prove so that they were not Christians. The bailiff sat on a special mat. The list with the names of all families of the city lay before him. Only in the year 1857 this control method was abolished in Japan. Today nineteen of those picture plates are in the National Museum in Tokyo.
On February 6th 1597 twenty-six Christians from Nagasaki and its surroundings suffered the martyr's death. Most of them were Franciscans or of the Franciscan Third Order. Among the twenty-six were three Jesuits. None of them came from Europe. They were genuine Japanese.
Paul Miki was of noble birth and had been baptized as child already. Educated by Jesuits he joined the Order, became priest and worked as catechist.
John of Goto was named after his homeland island Goto. He too had been educated by the Jesuits, became catechist and was incorporated into the Society of Jesus shortly before his death.
Jacob Kisai was the child of pagan parents and had been educated in a Monastery of Bonzes. After his conversion he married a Christian. But since she renounced her faith, he left her, became catechist, and joined the Jesuit Order.
They cut off the left ears of all twenty-six confessors and led them in the icy winter weather on carts through the streets of the city to the execution place. There twenty-six crosses were established, according to Japanese custom in a line. The people crowed around them.
From the cross Paul Miki held his last lecture with entrancing eloquence. At the end he forgave his tormentors. Johann Goto noticed among the people his father. He said cordially good-bye to him and left his rosary as souvenir to him. The father encouraged his son and assured him that he and mother too were ready to die for the faith.
Beside the crosses stood executioners with their lances, who at a sign perforated crosswise the chests of the martyrs. Now the people pushed near, dipped cloths into the wounds and cut off pieces of the clothes as souvenirs.
Pope Pius IX canonized the martyrs on July 8th 1862.
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