Martyrdom Takes More Than Suffering, Says Cardinal

Reflects on Testimony of 188 Newly Beatified Japanese

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NAGASAKI, Japan, NOV. 26, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A Vatican representative says that one does not become a martyr just by suffering torture and death, but by the reason for such suffering: Christ.



Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, retired prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, affirmed this Monday in Nagasaki. He was the Pope's envoy for the beatification of 188 Japanese martyrs, who gave their lives for Christ during religious persecution from 1603 to 1639.

More than 30,000 people attended the event, which recognized as blessed faithful from all walks of life. Entire families were among those martyred. Some were women burned alive with their children, as their families entreated Jesus to "welcome their souls." Jesuit Father Peter Kibe was among those beatified; he suffered 10 consecutive days of torture as he encouraged the catechists who accompanied him to stay faithful.

The beatification was presided over by Cardinal Seiichi Peter Shirayanagi, retired archbishop of Tokyo. Concelebrants included Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, seven bishops from Korea, and bishops from the Philippines and Taiwan.

Cardinal Saraiva Martins gave the homily, emphasizing that martyrdom is "the fullest expression of human liberty and the supreme act of love."

Citing St. Augustine, the cardinal said that "it is not condemnation or torment that makes a martyr, but rather the cause or motive [for the suffering], which is Christ."

The distinctive characteristic of Christian martyrdom, he added, citing Benedict XVI, consists in being "exclusively an act of love for God and for man, including those who persecute him."

For their part, the Japanese bishops affirmed in a statement that "these 188 martyrs are not political militants; they did not fight against a regime that impeded religious liberty. They were men and women of profound and authentic faith, who show the way to those who believe," offering "to all of us an experience on which to reflect."