The Singing Martyrs of Nagasaki

Today is the feast of Saint Paul Miki and Companion martyrs, put to death by crucifixion and impaling on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki, Japan, amongst the hundreds, if not thousands, who witnessed for the Faith in those tumultuous missionary times; their example offers  a healthy antidote to the rather darker and, to be quite honest, more depressing, meanderings and musings of the sad and tragic apostasy in the Shusaku Endo novel (now film) Silence.

The Franciscan priests, brothers and their lay associates  were forced to march 600 miles over 30 days to the site of their martyrdom – each one hoisted upon a cross, in imitation of their Lord and Master. The Office of Readings is a powerful contemporary testimony to the glorious martyrdom, as the  prayed, sang and forgave their executioners as they hung there, dying, in that Christian paradox of joy and suffering, or, rather, joy in suffering. They sang as they died – the children especially, for the youngest martyr was but eleven. Their voices rang out the Praise the Lord Ye Children, the Salve Regina, and the song of praise, the Te Deum. Father Paul Miki preached his last sermon from his cross, saying:

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.”

And, as the account concludes:

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 martyrs were beatified on the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, September 14, 1627 by Pope Urban VIII, and canonized by Blessed Pius IX on June 8, 1862. They would be followed by hundreds, if not thousands, of others who witnessed for the Faith in those pagan lands, where Christ and His salvific truth are still so needed.

In a providential connection the depths of which only the good God knows, Nagasaki, the most Christian region in Japan, was also chosen (as a secondary target) for the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Japan in August of 1945 – killing nearly 100,000 – men, women and children – people instantly. Peruse my own thoughts on the evil of this decision here and here. As the Second Vatican Council in the Pastoral Constitution of the Church, was to declare:

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

Curiously, or miraculously, as one’s a priori suppositions lean, in the prior blast at Hiroshima, the eight Jesuits stationed there, although only eight blocks from ground zero, not only survived the blast, but received no ill-effects of the radiation and lived to a ripe old age, as religious often do.  In the bombing of Nagasaki, the same thing happened to the Franciscan house of Maximilian Kolbe’s friars.  As mentioned, wonders really do never cease, and there are no accidents in God’s providential design.

May the martyrs pray for us, and that all may be open to the Truth.