►These martyrs — 42 Japanese Saints and 393 Beati (Blessed) — represent the largest batch of martyrs in any single nation in the last 400 years.
Japan’s martyrs were processed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) — in only four batches:
◘ The 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki (martyred 1597; beatified 1627; canonized 1862).
This first group includes St. Pedro Bautista (1542-1597), former Superior of all Franciscans in the Philippines and founder of the Franciscan Monastery at San Francisco del Monte, Manila — before he was sent to Japan in May 1593 as personal envoy of Governor-General Gomez Perez Dasmariñas to Hideyoshi. After his diplomatic chores were done, Bautista was allowed to stay on to establish a Franciscan mission.
◘ 205 Martyrs of Japan (1598-1632) – (beatified 1867). This was the largest group beatification ceremony in church history.
◘ Sixteen Martyrs of Japan (1633-1637) — (beatified, 1981; canonized 1987).
◘ The 188 Japanese Martyrs (1603-1639) — (beatified in Nagasaki in November 2008).
◘ SOLO CANDIDATE — The “Kiririshitan Samurai” Justo Ukon Takayama (1552-1615) – was born in Toyono-cho, Osaka, Japan, but died in exile in Manila. Promoted for sainthood by the Manila Archdiocese (Oct. 5, 1630); declared Servant of God (as a Confessor), June 5, 1994; beatified (as a Martyr), Feb. 7, 2017. Alone, among Japan’s 436 venerated Martyrs, he was processed SOLO – not as a Group Martyr.
Pope tells Japanese bishops not to forget these early martyrs
►In a letter to Japanese bishops, Pope Francis urges his brother prelates to … remember the witness of your martyrs. He remembered two martyrs in particular: ● St. Paulo Miki (パウロ三木; c1562–Feb. 5, 1597) and ● Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近; 1552-Feb. 3, 1615). These courageous martyrs represent “the true evangelizing power of your church,” that should always be remembered, cherished and built upon.
►Pope Francis said that when he recalls the Church in Japan, his “thought runs to the witness of so many Martyrs, who offered their life for the faith.” He went on to encourage the bishops to provide “solid and integral priestly and religious formation.” And he noted the role that can be played by “the Ecclesial Movements approved by the Apostolic See. With their evangelizing impulse and testimony, they can be of help in pastoral service and in the missio ad gentes.”
The Holy Father’s Letter
►“Every time I think of the Church in Japan, my thought runs to the witness of so many Martyrs, who offered their life for the faith. They have always had a special place in my heart: I think of Saint Paul Miki and his companions, who in 1597 were immolated, faithful to Christ and to the Church; I think of the innumerable Confessors of the faith, of Blessed Justus Ukon Takayama, who in the same period preferred poverty and the way of exile rather than abjure the name of Jesus.
“And what to say of the so-called “hidden Christians,” who from 1600 to the middle of the 1800s lived in clandestinity not to abjure but to keep their faith, of which we recently recalled the 150th anniversary of the discovery? The long list of Martyrs and Confessors of the faith, by nationality, language, social class and age, had in common a profound love for the Son of God, renouncing either their own civil status or other aspects of their social condition, all “for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
“Mindful of such spiritual patrimony, it is dear to me to address you, Brothers, who have inherited it and who with delicate solicitude continue the task of evangelization, especially by taking care of the weakest and fostering the integration in the communities of the faithful of various provinces. I want to thank you for this, as well as for your commitment to cultural <and> inter-religious dialogue and to the care of Creation. In particular, I wish to reflect with you on the missionary commitment of the Church in Japan. “If the Church is born catholic (namely, universal) it means that it was born “outbound,” that she was born missionary” (General Audience of 17.9.2014). In fact, “the love of Christ compels” us (2 Corinthians 5:14) to offer our life for the Gospel. Such dynamism dies if we lose the missionary enthusiasm. Therefore, “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy the most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 10).
“I pause on the discourse on the mountain, in which Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth; […] You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). Salt and light are related to a service. The Church in as much as salt has the task to preserve from corruption and to give flavor; in as much as light she impedes the darkness from prevailing, ensuring a clear vision about the reality and end of existence. These words are also a strong call to fidelity and authenticity, namely, it’s necessary that salt truly give flavour and light overcome darkness. The Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus speaks of it, appears initially with the poverty of a bit of leaven or a small seed; this symbolism reproduces well the present situation of the Church in the context of the Japanese world. Jesus has entrusted to her a great spiritual and moral mission. I know well that not a few difficulties exist because of the lack of clergy, of men and women religious and the limited participation of the lay faithful. However, the scarcity of labourers cannot reduce the commitment to evangelization; rather, it is the occasion that stimulates to seek it incessantly, as the householder of the vineyard does who goes out at all hours to find new labourers for his vineyard (Cf. Matthew 20:1-7).
“Dear Brothers, the challenges that the present reality puts before you cannot make you resigned and even less so return to an irenic and paralyzing dialogue, even if some problematic situations arouse not a few preoccupations: I am referring, for instance, to the high rate of divorces, of suicides even among young people, to persons that choose to live totally detached from social life (hikikomori), to religious and spiritual formalism, to moral relativism, to religious indifference, to the obsession for work and earnings. It’s also true that a society that runs in economic development also creates among you the marginalized, the excluded. I am thinking not only of those that are materially so, but also of those that are so spiritually and morally. In this very peculiar context, the need is urgent for the Church in Japan to renew constantly the choice for Jesus’ mission and to be salt and light. The genuine evangelizing strength of your Church, which comes to her also from having been a Church of Martyrs and Confessors of the faith, is a great good to guard and develop.
“In this connection, I would like to stress the necessity — a particularly urgent task today — especially because of the spread of the “disposable culture” (Meeting with Seminarians, and Men and Women Novices, 6.7.2013). Such a mentality leads young people, especially, to think that it’s not possible to truly love, that there is nothing stable and that everything, including love, is relative to the circumstances and the needs of sentiment. Therefore, a more important step in priestly and religious formation is to help those that undertake such a course to understand and experience in depth the characteristics of the love taught by Jesus, which is gratuitous, entails the sacrifice of oneself, and merciful forgiveness. This experience renders one capable of going against the current and of trusting the Lord, who doesn’t disappoint. It is the witness of which Japanese society has so much thirst.
“Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I entrust each one of you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and I assure you of my closeness and prayer. May the Lord send laborers to His Church in Japan and support you with His consolation.
“I extend upon you, upon the Church in Japan and its noble people my Apostolic Blessing, while I ask you not to forget me in your prayers.”
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro