By Fr. Paul Stark, S.J.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry
Yesterday, Monday, Feb.6, we celebrated the life and death of a young Jesuit Japanese, Saint Paul Miki, and his 25 companions, at the end of the 16th century in Japan. Paul a gifted preacher, was born to a wealthy Japanese family and educated by the Jesuits, and had followed in the footsteps of Francis Xavier, some thirty years earlier. Miki joined the Jesuits in a time of growing fear of Christianity by the ruling authorities. Finally, on Dec. 8, 1596, he was arrested with other Jesuits, Franciscans and laymen, old and young.
The 26 men were then tortured and forced to walk more than 300 miles to Nagasaki, trudging through snow, ice and freezing streams. Along the way, though, they preached to the people who had come out to see them. They told those people - similar to modern day gapers at traffic accidents, perhaps - that their martyrdom was an occasion of rejoicing and happiness, not an occasion of sadness.
Eventually and finally, on Feb. 5, they reached Nagasaki, where 26 crosses awaited them on a hill now called the Holy Mountain. It is said that these Christians ran to their crosses, singing. Soldiers bound them to the crosses with iron bands at their wrists, ankles and throats. They then thrust them through with lances.
Many people came to watch the cruel deaths. Authorities had hoped the example would frighten other Christians. Instead, the horrific deaths of these valiant men gave them the courage to profess their faith as the martyrs had.
Some two hundred years later, Japan again permitted Christianity in Japan. Missionaries found thousands of Christians still in Japan, living the faith in secret.
Paul Miki would have been the very first Japanese priest if he had escaped arrest, for he had already completed his studies for the priesthood. From his cross he forgave his persecutors and told the people to ask Christ to show them how to be truly happy.
Though most of us do not have journeys which end in our crucifixion, we can still pray that we might follow the example of Paul Miki and his companions; we can still pray we find joy in every journey we take; we can still pray we might learn to trust God, so that no matter what occurs in our lives, we will have no fear.
Fear not...for I am with you...