Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The 26 Japanese Martyrs
The shogunate and imperial government at first supported the Catholic mission and the missionaries, thinking that they would reduce the power of the Buddhist monks, and help trade with Spain and Portugal. However, the Shogunate was also wary of colonialism, seeing that in the Philippines the Spanish had taken power after converting the population. The government increasingly saw Roman Catholicism as a threat, and started persecuting Christians. A situation inflamed by their discovery that the Christian daimyo and Portuguese were engaging in the slave trading of Japanese women. [dubious – discuss] Christianity was banned and those Japanese who refused to abandon their faith were killed.
On February 5, 1597, twenty-six Christians—six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys—were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki. These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears.
Persecution continued sporadically, breaking out again in 1613 and 1630. On September 10, 1632, 55 Christians were martyred in Nagasaki in what became known as the Great Genna Martyrdom. At this time Roman Catholicism was officially outlawed. The Church remained without clergy and theological teaching disintegrated until the arrival of Western missionaries in the nineteenth century.
While there were many more martyrs, the first martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of which was Paul Miki. The Martyrs of Japan were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church on June 8, 1862 by Blessed Pius IX and are listed on the calendar as Sts. Paul Miki and his Companions, commemorated on February 6. Originally this feast day was listed as Sts. Peter Baptist and Twenty-Five Companions, Martyrs, and commemorated on February 5.
Drawn from the oral histories of Japanese Catholic communities, Shusaku Endo's acclaimed novel Silence provides detailed accounts of the persecution of Christian communities and the suppression of the Church.