The minor basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan in Nagasaki beholds the sacrifices of Catholic martyrs of the late 16th century who sacrificed their lives for faith. The church stands on a hill where 26 Catholics – Japanese, European, and Indian – were crucified like Jesus for refusing to renounce their faith in 1597.
The martyrdom came to global spotlight on June 8, 1862, when Pope Pius XI declared the martyrs as saints. The next year, two French MEP missionaries – Father Furet and Father Petitjean – started construction of the church to honor the martyrs.
Catholicism in Nagasaki has a golden legacy inherited from early Catholics who endured a series of persecution starting from the 16th century that continued until 19th century. The faith survived in the city despite the deadly and horrific US atomic bombing on Aug. 9, 1945, more than three centuries later. The martyrdom of 26 Catholics in the 16th century is regarded as a major event in the history of Catholic Church in Japan.
In modern times, the church of the martyrs came to global spotlight against thanks to visits by two popes. In 1997, Pope John Paul II visited Nagasaki on the 400th anniversary of martyrdom. More than 6,000 Catholics, including those from Japan, Australia, France, South Korea, and Spain gathered at the Nagasaki Sports Stadium to join the historic celebrations.
Pope Francis paid a visit in November 2019. The Jesuit pope reminded Catholics that martyrdom was not a relic of the past but a living memory for all those who believe, "Let us speak out and insist that religious freedom be guaranteed for everyone in every part of our world."
The basilica has a tall, front steeple with a cross on the top and a white, marble statue of Mother Mary, believed to have miraculous powers. Japan has designated the Basilica of 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki a National Treasure and UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage site.
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