The Martyrs of Japan: Paul Miki, James Kisai, Gonsalo Garcia
Barely forty years after St Francis Xavier planted the faith in Japan, the young church in those islands witnessed to the faith with martyrdom. We remember today the ‘Twenty-six Martyrs of Nagasaki’, the “first fruits of the Church”, who were crucified in that city during the persecution of Hideyoshi Taicosama. There were men and women among them, priests and laymen, local Japanese and foreign missionaries.
Paul Miki came from an affluent Japanese family which had converted to the faith already in the times of Xavier. Paul entered the Jesuit Society where he was reputed as a preacher, and was only a few months away from ordination when he was arrested.
His Jesuit companion was James Kisai, a former Buddhist, who left his marriage and became a Jesuit brother. Kisai was well-known as a catechist, and was arrested together with Paul Miki.
Gonsalo Garcia was a Franciscan brother, born in Bassein, India. He was educated by the Jesuits and worked with them for many years in Manila. But his many requests to enter the Society were always turned down, as it was not Jesuit policy to recruit Indians. Finally Gonsalo joined the Franciscans, came to Nagasaki, Japan, and with other members of his order set up the first Franciscan mission. These were already times of mild persecution of Christians, but worse was to come.
On February 5, six Franciscans (among whom was Brother Gonsalo), three Jesuits and 17 Japanese lay Catholics – a total of 26 persons were arrested and condemned to be crucified. They were strung up on crosses on a small hillock, in full view of the local people, and left to hang for some time before their executioners pierced each one with a lance.
The prayers of the martyrs mingled with their cries of agony, and “they gave up their lives so that all of us might believe in the love of the Father, the saving mission of the Son and the unerring guidance of the Holy Spirit” --- as Pope John Paul II said on his visit to the martyrs’ shrine.
The first martyrs of Japan have brought numerous blessings upon the Church in their country.
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