February-Saint Paul Miki and Companions
Christianity came to Japan with St Francis Xavier in the first half of the 16th century. Under the leader Hideyoshi, the growing Christian community was deemed to be a danger to Japanese society and some 3000 Christians, young and old, were martyred in 1596-97. Amongst those persecuted were members of the Jesuit and Franciscan religious orders. Twenty-six of these individuals were force-marched over 300 miles from Miako to Nagasaki through cold and snow to their deaths by crucifixion. Hideyoshi thought that this act of terror directed at foreigners would end foreign and Christian influence. However, the courage exhibited by the martyrs as they were tortured and killed left a lasting impression amongst the people of the region. Hideyoshi’s claim that the religious were foreigners was in fact untrue, for they included in their number some twenty Japanese. The best known is Paul Miki, who was from a Japanese noble family, a Jesuit who was about to be ordained, and a gifted communicator.
When westerners were allowed back into Japan in the mid-19th century it was thought that the Christian community had been wiped out two centuries earlier. In fact, Christianity had survived in the area around Nagasaki and there was an underground church numbering several thousand.
Reading: Luke 9: 23-25
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
Reflection: Lynn McWilliams-Outreach Coordinator
It has been said that God writes straight with crooked lines. Often in Christian history it is at times when everything seems lost that God is working silently to bring about the extraordinary. In 2 Corinthians St Paul says, ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’.
St Paul Miki and his companions shared a humiliating and violent death. That was an end, but not the sum total of the experience. Today people of faith still give their time and talent and sacrifice their lives for the greater Truth of God’s infinite love. This is a love which knows no barriers of time or space, nationality, political system or religion. And, just as 19th century visitors to Japan found a thriving Christian community in Nagasaki, we realise that in the challenging times in which we live the Holy Spirit is at work bringing hope to those who are persecuted and courage to those who work on behalf of the poor and marginalized.
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey…
I asked for health, that I might do great things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things…
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise…
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God…
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things…
I got nothing I asked for – but everything I had hoped for;
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among men, most richly blessed!