|SAINT PAUL MIKI AND COMPANIONS
Saint Paul Miki
Born: 1562 at Tsunokuni Japan
Died: Crucified on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki Japan
Beatified: September 14, 1627 by Pope Urban VIII
Canonized: June 8, 1862 by Pope Pius IX
Saint Paul was born and raised in the Tsunokuni district near Kyoto in comfortable surroundings. He was the son of a brave soldier, Miki Handayu. When Paul was four years old his parents converted to Christianity. Because of the teachings of the Jesuit, Saint Francis Xavier who came to Japan in 1549, there were hundreds of thousands of Christians in Japan.
As happens many times the Christians were allowed to practice their faith only because it pleased the reigning ruler. Oda Nobunaga, the Japanese ruler permitted the missionaries to preach because he wanted to challenge the power of the Buddhist Monks. He was also interested in foreign trade. When he died in 1582, one of his generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi seized power.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was one of the most significant figures in Japanese history. He was so respected that he became a Shinto deity shortly after his death and given the title “Wealth of Nations”. His greatest ambition was to establish a Japanese empire extending over the whole of Asia.
Christianity, however, was seen as a religion of foreigners. It was very different from Buddhism or the native Shintoism which honored many minor gods. Japan and especially Toyotomi Hideyoshi feared the foreigners. When Toyotomi noticed that Christianity was becoming very popular with the people he became extremely nervous. In 1587 Toyotomi issued an edict that banned all Jesuits missionaries from entering Japan. The edict was never fully enforced so Saint Paul Miki and his missionary friends continued to evangelize with little interruption.
Things change when in the fall of 1596 a Spanish ship en route to Mexico from Manila wrecked on the coast of Japan. The Japanese officials confiscated the vessel’s cargo. Then it was rumored that the ship’s captain was spreading a story that the missionaries intended to help Spain in conquering Japan. That scared Hideyoshi. He quickly ordered the arrest of several priest and laymen who had come to Japan from the Spanish Philippines to evangelize. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was firmly convinced that a public, gruesome blood bath would put an end to this religion of the West.
On the day after Christmas in 1596, police came to the Jesuit residence in Osaka. Saint Paul Miki, along with two of his novice brothers, John Soan De Goto and James Kisai were taken. They were brought to a prison in Kyoto where they were joined by six Franciscans and fifteen members of the Franciscan Third Order.
A week later, without any kind of a trial, the twenty-four prisoners were led into the public square where they were given the death sentence. The innocent prisoners were to be crucified. Saint Paul Miki’s heart soared to think he was going to be given a chance to imitate Christ on the Cross. Each man then stood at attention as a samurai warrior cut off a portion of their left ear. The first blood shed for Christ, but not to be the last!
The Samurai were an elite group of Japanese warriors. They employed a range of weapons such as arrows, spears and guns. Their favorite weapon and their symbol was the sword. The Samurai were supposed to live their lives according to the ethical code of bushido (way of the warrior) which stressed loyalty to one’s master, self discipline and respectful and ethical behavior. When Toyotomi Hideyoshi reunited Japan he introduced a rigid caste system, forcing all samurai to decide between a life on the farm and a life in castle towns. It was forbidden for anyone to bear a sword. Only a samurai warrior had that privilege.
The prisoners were gathered together and forced to begin a 600 mile walk from the Japanese capitol of Kyoto to Nagasaki on the coast, the place of their execution. The journey took a month during which they were ridiculed by the Japanese and encouraged and prayed for by the Christians. Saint Paul Miki, even as a Jesuit novice for he had not yet been ordained, was famous for his preaching and he took every opportunity on this journey to preach the good news of Christ in spite of the severe suffering all of them experienced.
Along with the Jesuits and the Franciscans there were Japanese laymen who were also counted in the group of martyrs. There was Francis, a carpenter who was arrested while watching the executions and then crucified; Gabriel, the nineteen year-old son of the Franciscan’s door keeper; Leo Kinuya, a twenty-eight year-old carpenter from Miyako; Diego Kisai, temporal coadjutor of the Jesuits; Joachim Sakakibara, a cook for the Franciscans; Peter Sukejiro, sent by a Jesuit priest to help the prisoners; Cosmas Takeya who had preached in Osaka and Ventura from Miyako who had been baptized by the Jesuits and had given up his faith on the death of his father, but was brought back to the church by the Franciscans. All during the journey the group sang the Te Deum.
At the last stop outside of Nagasaki, the community which had the most converts to Christianity, two Jesuit priests met the group to hear confessions. Two more people were arrested on the spot for trying to comfort the soon to be martyrs and so their number was increased.
As the caravan entered the city of Nagasaki, thousands of faithful Christians lined the streets to encourage the prisoners. Under a feudal lord, Baron Omura, Nagasaki had become a Christian town. Jesuits had schools, churches and homes for the poor. If Hideyoshi had intended the crucifixions to discourage the Christians here, his plan was already having the opposite effect.
February 5th the day of the execution, Saint Paul and the others were led up Nishizaka Hill, the final piece of land overlooking Nagasaki Bay. One side of the road was scattered with human remains, where common criminals were executed. The other side of the road was covered in green wheat. The government official in charge of the executions had been persuaded by some influential Portuguese to give the martyrs a more decent field than those of the common criminals.
There were twenty-six crosses on the ground each one tailor made for the martyrs. When the prisoners saw them, they burst into praise singing the church’s traditional hymn of thanksgiving the Te Deum. The three children martyrs who had been altar servers embraced their little crosses and knelt down. Saint Paul Miki’s cross was too big for him so the soldiers had to tie him on, stepping on his chest. A missionary standing by protested, but Saint Paul said, “Let him do his job Father. It does not really hurt”.
The crosses were lifted and slid into the holes in the ground. The martyrs raised their eyes to heaven and began singing “Praise the Lord, ye children of the Lord”. Finally one of the prisoners chanted the litany, “Jesus, Mary. Jesus, Mary”. The crowds joined in. Then each prisoner was asked if they wanted to recant their faith in exchange for their lives. Each one loudly answered “NO”.
Planted in front of Saint Paul Miki’s cross was the death sentence Hideyoshi had declared: “As these men came from the Philippines under the guise of ambassadors and chose to stay in Kyoto preaching the Christian law which I severely forbidden all these years, I come to decree that they be put to death, together with the Japanese that have accepted that law. Fastened to his cross with ropes and a metal band around his neck like all the others, Saint Paul gave his final defense in the form of a samurai farewell song:
I did not come from the Philippines. I am Japanese by birth and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime. The only reason I am condemned to die is that I have taught the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am happy to do it for such a cause and accept death as a great gift from my Lord. At this critical time, when you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian way. The Christian law commands that we forgive our enemies and those who have wronged us. I must therefore say here that I forgive Hideyoshi and all who took a part in my death. I do not hate Hideyoshi. I would rather have him and all the Japanese become Christians.
The guards listened quietly. Saint Paul had shown he could remain a faithful Japanese, adhere to the Samurai code of Honor, and yet give glory to Christ. Looking to heaven, Saint Paul said, “Lord into your hands I commend my spirit. Come to meet me, ye saints of God.”
Two Samurai soldiers stood at the foot of each cross. Following the Japanese method of crucifixion each soldier plunged his steel-tipped bamboo spear into the victim’s breast. As the executions continued an angry roar came from the crowd. When the murders were complete the Christian witnesses pushed past the guards and rushed to soak their clothes in the martyr’s blood. The bodies remained on the crosses and left to decompose for almost a year and half until 1598 when Hideyoshi permitted an envoy from the Philippines to gather the last remains of the martyrs and their crosses. The Christians planted a tree in each of the holes in the ground left by the crosses and in the center they built a big cross. Hideyoshi’s plan to extinguish Christianity had backfired.
Presently, 400 years after their deaths, a church, museum and monument stand atop the Nishizaka Hill to commemorate the brave early martyrs of the Japanese Christian community. In 1862 Pope Gregory XVI proclaimed Saint Paul Miki and his Companions saints of the Roman Catholic Church.
Saint Paul Miki, pray for us in these perilous times that we too will not be afraid to die for Christ.