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The Heroic Death of St. Paul Miki & Companions: the First Japanese Martyrs

Feb 06, 2017 By Gretchen Filz

This guest post was written by Mary Kate Hetzel 

In 1597, Paul Miki and his twenty five companions were crucified for their Christian faith in Nagasaki, Japan.

A Japanese layman, St. Paul Miki was born into a Japanese noble family and was heir to a great inheritance and position in Japanese society.  He was was converted to Christianity by the great Saint Francis Xavier. When Christian missionaries first began to evangelize in Japan, they were not initially met with opposition. Their presence opened the door not only to a new faith, but also to trade and economic expansion.

The tide changed in 1596, when Taikosama became the effective ruler of Japan under the emperor. He launched a brutal campaign of persecution aimed not only at curbing the further spread of Christianity, but wiping out any sign of its current existence.

This is apparent in the vastly ranging slew of occupations, ages, and nationalities among the twenty six men who were force marched 600 miles over 30 days to meet their death in Nagasaki.  The group included Franciscan and Jesuit foreign missionaries and Japanese lay people, several of whom were Franciscan Tertiaries.

They were repeatedly offered freedom if they would renounce Christianity; they all declined.  When the march ended in Nagasaki, the twenty six martyrs were tied to crosses and the execution notice was read, upon which the men started to pray and sing while Paul Miki began to preach in a loud voice:

“Having arrived at this moment of my existence, I believe that no one of you thinks I want to hide the truth. That is why I declare to you that there is no other way of salvation than the one followed by Christians. Since this way teaches me to forgive my enemies and all who have offended me, I willingly forgive the king and all those who have desired my death. And I pray that they will obtain the desire of Christian baptism.”

The man reading their death sentence sought to paint the killings as a necessary government measure. He told the crowd the martyrs were all men from the Philippines who had come to infiltrate Japanese society and erode their traditions with their lies. Paul Miki spoke above him and told the truth about his Japanese heritage and spoke of the truth of the Gospel that the missionaries had shared and the salvation that could be won by all.

Here are St. Paul Miki's words as he hung on his cross:

“The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

These first martyrs of Japan were then stabbed to death while hung on their crosses, but the crowd who heard the testimony of Paul Miki and his companions would immortalize his words and use them to spread Christianity to Japan. Their feast day is celebrated on February 6th.

“Like my Master, I shall die upon the cross.

Like him, a lance will pierce my heart

so that my blood and my love can flow out

upon the land and sanctify it to his name.”

-St. Paul Miki

The Heroic Martyrdom of St. Paul Miki and His 25 Companions, the first Japanese Martyrs

This article has been updated and was originally published in February 2015. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.

Comments

Linh Dinh
Linh Dinh says
Feb 14 2019 12:33AM
My son was born prematurely last week. As I am searching for Saint name for my son, I accidentally came across the bio of Saint Paul Miki. What an inspiration to Christianity and bravery. I wish my son will follow his teaching and use Saint Paul Miki as his Saint Name.
Marie
Marie says
Feb 6 2019 5:11PM
The death sentence stated that the Nagasaki martyrs were "from the Philippines" -- presumably to prevent Japanese onlookers from expressing sympathy to those, like St. Paul Miki, were actually Japanese.

But that claim might not have been too far from the truth.

One of the priests crucified with St. Paul Miki was St. Pedro Bautista, OFM, a Spanish missionary in the Philippines. He wouldn't have gone to Japan by himself, but most likely, with a coterie of Filipino catechists and members of the Secular Franciscan Order. These lay companions, too, were crucified along with the Padre, although they remained unnamed and without documents to prove their martyrdom.

Within the next 40 years after St. Pedro Bautista's death came another group of missionaries from the Philippines, also martyred by Japanese authorities. Among them was the native-born Filipino, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, a layman and a catechist, and whose martyrdom was documented by the Dominicans of the old University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

St. Lorenzo Ruiz (feastday: September 26) is considered to be the Philippines' proto-martyr, but only God knows there might have been others ahead of him.

Anyway. St. Pedro Bautista, before going to Japan, was the Franciscan superior at the San Gregorio Magno friary in Paete, Laguna, Philippines. He incorporated all the little hamlets in the area into towns, initiated the building of roads, and founded the parishes that are flourishing even now.

I am thankful and happy to have come from one of the Philippine parishes where St. Pedro Bautista actually lived and worked.

Thank you for this article.
john huphrey
john huphrey says
Feb 6 2019 12:49AM
Thanks for the good workforce in editing the historic of saint paul milk and companions .it is a ca l l for us a ll to be Christians ans even amidst persection
Patricia McCabe
Patricia McCabe says
Feb 6 2018 5:13AM
Thank you for this explanation of St. Paul Miki and his companions. I am amazed at the bravery and martyrdom of these saints. I can only hope to be a fraction of what Saint Paul was. Thank you for bringing him to light.

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Commentary by

Gretchen Filz Gretchen Filz

Gretchen is a Lay Dominican with a passion for fostering an increase in Catholic faith and devotion through content writing and journalism. She works as a digital content writer, creator, and marketer for The Catholic Company. In addition to blogging at GetFed.com, she is also editor of the MorningOffering.com daily devotional email and author at GoodCatholic.com. She holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics and converted to the Catholic Church in 2011. She is also active in R.C.I.A., pro-life work, and various faith-based web projects.

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