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Pope Francis honors Japanese martyrs

Pontiff calls for religious freedom to be guaranteed for everyone in every part of our world

ucanews reporter, Nagasaki

ucanews reporter, Nagasaki

Updated: November 24, 2019 04:18 AM GMT
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Pope Francis honors Japanese martyrs

Pope Francis takes part in a tribute ceremony in front of the Twenty-Six Martyrs Monument in Nagasaki on Nov. 24. (Photo: AFP)

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Pope Francis remembered 26 Christians murdered more than 400 years ago as he visited the Twenty-Six Martyrs Monument on Nishizaka Hill in Nagasaki.

He also spoke of modern-day martyrs, religious freedom and misuse of religion on the second day of his visit to Japan.

The martyrs’ monument was built in June 1962 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the canonization of the Christians executed on the site on Feb. 5, 1597. The 26 martyrs comprised 20 Japanese Christians and six foreign priests who had been arrested in Kyoto and Osaka for preaching Christianity.

They were marched through the snow to Nagasaki so that their execution would serve as a deterrent to Nagasaki's large Christian population. Hung up on 26 crosses with chains and ropes, the Christians were lanced to death in front of a large crowd. St. Paul Miki is said to have preached to the crowd from his cross.

“I have come here as a pilgrim to pray, to confirm you in the faith, and to be confirmed by the faith of these brothers and sisters who by their witness and devotion light up our path,” Pope Francis told his audience on Nov. 24.

“This shrine bears the images and names of Christians who were martyred long ago, starting with Paul Miki and his companions on February 5, 1597, and a host of other martyrs who consecrated this ground by their suffering and death.

“However, this shrine does more than speak of death; it also speaks of the triumph of life over death. St. John Paul II saw this place not simply as the mount of the martyrs but a true Mount of the Beatitudes, where our hearts can be stirred by the witness of men and women filled with the Holy Spirit and set free from selfishness, complacency and pride.

“This shrine is above all a monument to Easter, for it proclaims that the last word — despite all evidence to the contrary — belongs not to death but to life. We are not destined for death but for the fullness of life. This was the message the martyrs proclaimed.”

In his talk at Nishizaka, Pope Francis then spoke of martyrs today, religious freedom and misuse of religion.

“Brothers and sisters, in this place we are united with those Christians throughout the world who, in our own day, suffer martyrdom for the faith. They are the martyrs of the 21st century and their witness summons us to set out with courage on the path of the Beatitudes. Let us pray with them and for them. Let us speak out and insist that religious freedom be guaranteed for everyone in every part of our world,” he said.

“Let us also condemn the manipulation of religions through policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women.”

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