Japan to Celebrate Beatification of Its Martyrs

Minority Church Mobilizing to Accommodate Crowds

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NAGASAKI, Japan, NOV. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Japan is anticipating the beatification of 188 of its martyrs next week as an event that is expected to require 2,500 volunteers and priests from all over the nation to offer the sacraments.



The Nov. 24 beatification ceremony for the 17th-century martyrs will be presided over by Cardinal Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi, retired archbishop of Tokyo. Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, retired prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, will be Benedict XVI's special envoy for the event

Ceremony coordinator Friar Isao Hashimoto explained to the magazine Catholic Weekly that it has been necessary to mobilize the whole diocese, given that attendance "has surpassed the initial estimates."

Four Nagasaki parishes, including the cathedral, will hold prayer vigils and offer the sacrament of penance to pilgrims arriving in the city, so that the collaboration of priests of the whole country has been requested.

Moreover, the various dioceses are educating the faithful on the history of these martyrs, so that all the faithful will participate in some way in the beatification. In the Tokyo diocese, for example, the month of October was dedicated to the new martyrs.

"A martyr is not someone one must feel sorry for," Friar Hashimoto explained. "The martyrs followed Jesus to make themselves perfect sacrifices. Their acts were not only in praise of God, but also of humanity. I believe they represent a powerful message for today's world.

"I hope that this event will remain in people's heart. The beatification should not end as a one-night spectacle; rather, we must change our mentality, which is closed in on ourselves, caused during the long period of persecution, [and be] a Church with doors open to the rest of the world."

Long martyrdom

Japan was evangelized by Spanish St. Francis Xavier between 1549 and 1552. A few decades later the newborn Church underwent persecution. The first martyrs, including St. Paul Miki (crucified in Nagasaki in 1579), were canonized in 1862 by Pope Pius IX. An additional 205 were beatified in 1867.

In 1603, another fierce persecution began against Christians (then numbering close to 400,000 in the whole of Japan), and tens of thousands of them were killed. The martyrs that will be beatified next week belong to that period. Among them are four priests and 184 laypeople, including children.

The Church that survived the persecution went underground for 250 years, until the arrival of European missionaries in the 19th century.

The cause of these 188 martyrs opened in 1984, in the wake of John Paul II's 1981 apostolic visit to Japan.

"This is an important occasion for the Church in Japan to reflect on the faith of Christians that preceded us 400 years ago," said the Japanese bishops in their message to the faithful. "We need to develop a strong faith in God, to place our hope in God in all circumstances, and to live in love all the days of our life."

Japan is less than 1% Christian.