With regard to people who today suffer martyrdom for their faith, Pope Francis has asked: “Let us raise our voices so that religious freedom is guaranteed for everyone and in every corner of the city, planet and against all manipulation of religions ”.
On November 24, the Holy Father visited the hill Nishizaka, where the monument to St. Paul Miki and 25 other martyrs is located to preside over a tribute to them.
ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, is covering the trip from the Papal Flight.
St. Paul Miki was born in Kyoto 1556 in a wealthy family and is baptized. He attended a college of the Society of Jesus and at 22 he became a novice, thus becoming the first Japanese Catholic religious.
Expert of Eastern religiosity, he was commissioned to preach. Christianity had arrived in Japan in 1549, with St. Francis Xavier and Paul Miki lived fruitful years until, at the end of 1500, the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi initiated a persecution against the Christians, ordering the expulsion of the priests.
In December 1596 Paul Miki, along with some foreign missionaries and other Japanese Christians, were arrested in Osaka and forced to walk the road to Nagasaki on foot. This place was chosen for its execution due to the significant Christian presence in that city.
The trip, 800 km, lasted a month, and on February 5, 1597, Paul Miki and his companions were crucified on the hill Nishizaka. Before expiring, Paul urged everyone to follow the faith of Christ and forgive his comrades.
The death of Paul and his companions marked, in fact, the beginning of a long period of two centuries of hard persecution in Japan.
All of them were beatified in 1627 and canonized in 1862. One hundred years later, on that same place, in 1962, a red-brick monument was erected that presents, set in a cross, the life-size bronze statues of the 26 martyrs.
Martyrs’ Shrine and Museum
Pope John Paul II visited as a pilgrim this Monument of the Martyrs of Nagasaki on February 26, 1981. Subsequently, this place, which overlooks the cathedral of Oura, also dedicated to the martyrs, was designated as a Japanese national sanctuary monument.
Behind the monument is the Martyrs Museum, which guards the history of Christianity in Nagasaki through a collection of everyday objects, such as a letter from St. Francis Xavier.
Tribute to the martyrs
Upon arrival, Francisco was welcomed by the director of the Martyrs Museum, by a priest and by a brother of the Society of Jesus. After an initial song, a family handed some flowers to the Pope, who deposited in front of the memorial.
The Bishop of Rome lit a candle offered to him by a descendant of the persecuted Christians and then began a moment of silent prayer in front of the Martyrs’ Monument and the relics have been censored.
Next, Pope Francis delivered a greeting and prayed the Angelus with those present.
The Holy Father offered as a gift a floor lamp made especially for this visit of the Bishop of Rome to Japan. Cast in silver brass, measures 120 cm high. It consists of a base with three bands, with the symbol “PAX” in relief.
It also has a cylindrical stem with a knot that bears a medal with the coat of arms of Pope Francis. On the top, there is a wax shield with three candles that hold the lamp.
In his words, Pope Francis has indicated that he was “looking forward” to this moment and that he was going “as a pilgrim to pray, to confirm, and also to be confirmed by the faith of these brothers, who with their testimony and dedication point us to the path”.
In this way, he referred to the deaths of Pablo Miki and the 25 martyrs in 1597, “who consecrated this field with their suffering and death.” However, for the Pontiff, this place “more than death, tells us about the triumph of life” because, as John Paul II considered this hill is a “ Mount of Beatitudes , where we can touch the testimony of men invaded by the Holy Spirit, free from selfishness, comfort and pride (cf. Exhort. Ap. Gaudete et exsultate , 65) ”.
“His testimony confirms us in faith and helps to renew our dedication and our commitment, to live the missionary discipleship who knows how to work for a culture, capable of always protecting and defending all life, through that ‘martyrdom’ of daily service and silent of all, especially towards the most needy, ”said Francisco.
He also remarked that in this place we also join Christians who today live martyrdom for the sake of faith: “Martyrs of the 21st century who question us with their testimony that we bravely take the path of the Beatitudes. Let us pray for them and with them
The Holy Father’s full commentary, provided by the Vatican:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have very much looked forward to this moment. 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. I thank all of you for your warm welcome.
This shrine bears the images and names of Christians who were martyred long ago, starting with Paul Miki and his companions on 5 February 1597, and a host of other martyrs who consecrated this ground by their suffering and their death.
However, this shrine does more than speak of death; it also speaks of the triumph of life over death. Saint 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 (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 65). For here the light of the Gospel shone forth in the love that triumphed over persecution and the sword.
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. Yes, here we see the darkness of death and martyrdom, but also the light of the resurrection, as the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the new life that Jesus wishes to bestow on us. Their witness confirms us in faith and helps us to renew our dedication and commitment to that missionary discipleship which strives to create a culture capable of protecting and defending all life through the daily “martyrdom” of silent service towards all, especially those in greatest need.
I have come to this monument of the martyrs to pay homage to these holy men and women. But I also come in humility, as one who himself, as a young Jesuit from “the ends of the earth”, found powerful inspiration in the story of the early missionaries and the Japanese martyrs. May we never forget their heroic sacrifice! May it not remain as a glorious relic of the past, to be kept and honored in a museum, but rather as a living memory, an inspiration for the works of the apostolate and a spur to renewed evangelization in this land. May the Church in the Japan of our own day, amid all its difficulties and signs of hope, feel called to hear anew each day the message proclaimed by Saint Paul Miki from the cross, and share with all men and women the joy and the beauty of the Gospel which is the way of truth and life (cf. Jn 14:6). May we free ourselves daily from whatever weighs us down and prevents us from walking in humility, freedom, parrhesia and charity.
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 twenty-first 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. 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” (Document on Human Fraternity, Abu Dhabi, 4 February 2019).
Let us ask Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, Saint Paul Miki and all his companions, who throughout history have proclaimed by their lives the wonders of the Lord, to pray for your country and for the whole Church. May their witness awaken and sustain in all of us the joy of the mission.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican