By Marta Lago
ROME, DEC. 12, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Japanese bishops in Rome for their five-yearly visit to the Pope said they are already preparing for the beatification of 188 martyrs from Nagasaki next year, an event expected to be the largest-ever gathering of Japanese faithful.
Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki visited Benedict XVI on Monday and later spoke with L’Osservatore Romano about preparations under way for the Nov. 24, 2008, beatification ceremony.
This June 1, the Pope approved the beatification of Jesuit Father Pietro Kibe Kasui, and 187 of his companions murdered between 1603 and 1639. Of the 188 martyrs, four were religious.
“All the others were laity, and among them many women and children,” the archbishop explained. “Among the murdered believers some belonged to the samurai,” so “they knew how to handle weapons and could have defended themselves,” but “they chose to die for Christ.”
Archbishop Takami said the first missionaries arrived to southern Japan in 1549 with St. Francis Xavier. “The beginnings were very encouraging and had many conversions,” but “the situation rapidly deteriorated,” he added.
“From 1603 until 1639, persecutions increased eventually reaching the expulsion of all missionaries and the assassination of those who professed faith in Christ,” the 61-year-old prelate continued. “In addition, the entire archipelago was closed to foreigners with two exceptions: Dutch and Chinese merchants, who were housed in the port regions of Nagasaki under direct control of the central power.”
Archbishop Takami said he is praying and hoping that the beatifications will strengthen the faith among Catholics in Japan. “The prevalent culture pushes the new generations toward consumerism and hedonism,” he explained. “It is necessary to multiply our efforts to transmit the Gospel teachings.”