Christianity grew rapidly in Japan after St. Francis Xavier first came there in 1549; by 1590 around 200,000 Christians lived on the southern island of Kyushu or in central Japan. Several influential political leaders became converts and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the general who unified Japan under his rule, looked favorably on the new religion at first. His attitude later changed and he issued a decree on July 25, 1587ordering all foreign missionaries out of Japan.
Some Jesuits obeyed but most remained in the country and worked undercover to minister to their converts. This edict marked the start of a period of time of persecution when authorities used imprisonment, torture and the threat of execution in an attempt to stamp out Christianity. Many Christians refused to yield, including many Jesuits who were martyred for their commitment to serving the persecuted Church.
St. Paul Miki (1562-1597) was converted to Christianity by St. Francis Xavier and, feeling a call to religious life, became a Jesuit.
Miki preached the Gospel throughout Japan and for that he was condemned to death. He and his companions were marched 600 miles so they could be abused along the way. His preaching lead to many converting to Christianity; his last sermon, from the Cross on which he was crucified, is described in this account of his martyrdom:
The crosses were set in place. Father Pasio and Father Rodriguez took turns encouraging the victims. Their steadfast behaviour was wonderful to see. The Father Bursar stood motionless, his eyes turned heavenward. Brother Martin gave thanks to God’s goodness by singing psalms. Again and again he repeated: “Into your hands, Lord, I entrust my life”. Brother Francis Branco also thanked God in a loud voice. Brother Gonsalvo in a very loud voice kept saying the Our Father and Hail Mary.
Our brother, Paul Miki, saw himself standing now in the noblest pulpit he had ever filled. To his “congregation” he began by proclaiming himself a Japanese and a Jesuit. He was dying for the Gospel he preached. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing and he ended his “sermon” with these words: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves”.
Then he looked at his comrades and began to encourage them in their final struggle. Joy glowed in all their faces, and in Louis’ most of all. When a Christian in the crowd cried out to him that he would soon be in heaven, his hands, his whole body strained upward with such joy that every eye was fixed on him.
Anthony, hanging at Louis’ side, looked toward heaven and called upon the holy names – “Jesus, Mary!” He began to sing a psalm: “Praise the Lord, you children!” (He learned it in catechism class in Nagasaki. They take care there to teach the children some psalms to help them learn their catechism).
Others kept repeating “Jesus, Mary!” Their faces were serene. Some of them even took to urging the people standing by to live worthy Christian lives. In these and other ways they showed their readiness to die.
Then, according to Japanese custom, the four executioners began to unsheathe their spears. At this dreadful sight, all the Christians cried out, “Jesus, Mary!” And the storm of anguished weeping then rose to batter the very skies. The executioners killed them one by one. One thrust of the spear, then a second blow. It was over in a very short time.
"The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ's example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain." - Saint Paul Miki
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The way to make the best of winter is to enjoy it -- the skiing, skating and other outside activities. So today, I will head out to the Rideau Canal for a good workout with the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Ottawans and visitors here for the two and a half weeks of Winterlude that began last night with ceremonies and fireworks. Conditions are a bit brisk (-16 C this morning), but the sun will shine and the weatherman promises it to warm up to -8C by noon. Here are some photos from an earlier excursion on the Canal: