These twenty-six martyrs are sometimes called the martyrs of Nagasaki and the martyrs of Japan. St. Francis Xavier brought the Good News of Christianity to Japan in 1549. Many received the Word and were baptized by St. Francis himself. Although Francis moved on and eventually died
near the shores of China, the faith had grown in Japan. By 1587 there were over two hundred thousand Catholics. Missionaries from various religious orders were there. Japanese priests, religious and lay people lived the faith joyfully.
In 1597, forty-five years after the arrival of Francis Xavier, a powerful Japanese official, Hideyoshi, listened to the gossip of a Spanish merchant. The merchant whispered that the missionaries were traitors of Japan. He suggested that these traitors would cause Japan to be defeated by Spain and Portugal. The claim was false and absurd. But as an overreaction, Hideyoshi had twenty-six people arrested. The group included six Franciscans from Spain, Mexico and India; three Japanese Jesuit catechists, including St. Paul Miki; and seventeen Japanese Catholic lay people, including children. The twenty-six were led to the place of execution outside Nagasaki. They were fastened to individual crosses with chains and cords and had iron collars clamped around their necks. Each cross was hoisted and the base was lowered into a hole dug for it. Spears were thrust into each of
the victims. They died almost at the same moment. Their blood-stained clothes were treasured by the Christian community and miracles happened through their intercession.
Each martyr was a gift to the Church. St. Paul Miki, a Jesuit catechist, had been a great preacher. His last valiant homily came from the cross as he encouraged the Christian community to be faithful until death. It was February 5, 1597. St. Paul Miki and his companions were
proclaimed saints by Pope Gregory XVI in 1862.
We can pray every day for people who live in parts of the world where
they are persecuted for their beliefs. We can also ask St. Paul Miki and his companions for courage to be faithful to Jesus.