Died: 5 February 1597, Nagasaki, Japana Canonized: 8 June 1862 by Pope Pius IX
Christianity spread like wildfire in sixteenth-century Japan. By the 1580s, less than forty years after Francis Xavier introduced the faith, the church counted two hundred thousand converts. The growth had proceeded despite the opposition of Buddhist priests and many petty rulers. However, in 1587, Emperor Hideyoshi ordered the banishment of all Catholics, forcing the Jesuit missionaries to operate from hiding. But outright persecution did not break out until late 1596, when Hideyoshi rounded up twenty-six Jesuits, Franciscans, and laypeople and prepared to martyr them.
Among the victims was St. Paul Miki, a Jesuit novice who had just completed eleven years of training. Paul’s noble family was converted when he was a child and at age five he was baptized. Educated by Jesuits, the gifted youth joined their novitiate at age twenty-two. He had studied intensively the teachings of the Buddhists so as to be able to debate their priests. He welcomed his chance at martyrdom, but may have wished just a little that it would be delayed long enough for him to be ordained a priest.
Hideyoshi had the left ears of the twenty-six martyrs severed as a sign of disrespect and paraded them through Kyoto. Dressed in his simple black cassock, Paul stood out among them. Most onlookers realized that this noble young man could have worn the samurai’s costume with two swords on his belt. The whole display had the unexpected effect of evoking compassion from the crowd, some of whom later became converts.
The martyrs were then taken to Nagasaki. They were tied to crosses with their necks held in place by iron rings. Beside each was an executioner with his spear ready to strike. An eyewitness gave this account:
When the crosses were set up it was a wonderful thing to see the constancy of all of them. Our brother Paul Miki, seeing himself raised to the most honorable position that he had ever occupied, openly proclaimed that he was a Japanese and a member of the Society of Jesus. And that he was being put to death for having preached the gospel. He gave thanks to God for such a precious favor.
He then added these words: “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.”
At this point, he turned his eyes toward his companions and began to encourage them in their final struggle. The faces of them all shone with great gladness. Another Christian shouted to him that he would soon be in paradise. “Like my Master,” murmured Paul, “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.”
As they awaited death the entire group sang the canticle of Zachary (see Luke 1:67-79). The executioners stood by respectfully until they had intoned the last verse. Then at a given signal they thrust their spears into the victims’ sides. On that day, February 5, 1597, the church of Japan welcomed its first martyrs.
In these Sundays the liturgy proposes to us the so-called Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew’s Gospel. After having presented the Beatitudes last Sunday, today it highlights Jesus’ words, which describe the mission of His disciples in the world (cf. Matthew 5:13-16). He uses the metaphor of salt and light, and His words are addressed to disciples of all times, hence also to us.
Jesus invites us to be a reflection of His light, through the testimony of good works. He says: ”Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). These words underline that we are recognizable as true disciples of Him who is Light of the world, not in words, but by our works. In fact, it is above all our behavior that — in the good and in the bad – leaves a sign in others. Hence we have a task and a responsibility for the gift received: the light of faith, which is in us through Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit, we must not keep as if it were our property. Instead, we are called to make it shine in the world, to give it to others through good works. And how much the world needs the light of the Gospel, which transforms, heals and guarantees salvation to those who receive it! We must take this light with our good works.
By giving itself, the light of our faith is not extinguished but reinforced. Instead, it can fail if we do not nourish it with love and with works of charity. Thus the image of light meets with that of salt. In fact, the evangelical page tells us that, as Christ’s disciples, we are also “the salt of the earth” (v. 13). Salt is an element that, while it gives flavor, preserves food from alteration and corruption — there were no fridges in Jesus’ time! Therefore, the mission of Christians in society is to give “flavor” to life with the faith and love that Christ has given us, and at the same time to keep away the polluting germs of egoism, of envy, of malicious gossip, and so on. These germs ruin the fabric of our communities, which instead should shine as places of hospitality, of solidarity and of reconciliation. To fulfil this mission, it is necessary first of all that we ourselves are liberated from the corrupting degeneration of worldly influences, which are contrary to Christ and the Gospel; and this purification never ends, it goes on every day!
Each one of us is called to be light and salt in the environment of our daily life, persevering in the task of regenerating the human reality in the spirit of the Gospel and in the perspective of the Kingdom of God. May the protection of Mary Most Holy, first disciple of Jesus and model, be of help to believers who live every day their vocation and mission in history. May our Mother help us to let ourselves always be purified and illumined by the Lord, to become in turn “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.”
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
After the Angelus
Dear Brothers and Sister,
Today, Pro-Life Day is being celebrated in Italy, on the theme “Pro-Life Women and Men in the Wake of Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” I unite myself to the Italian Bishops in hoping for a courageous education action in favor of human life. Every life is sacred! We carry forward the culture of life as the answer to the logic of rejection and demographic decline; we are close and together we pray for the children who are in danger of the interruption of pregnancy, as well as for persons who are at the end of life — every life is sacred! — so that no one is left alone and that love may defend the meaning of life. We recall Mother Teresa’s words: “Life is beauty, admire it; life is life, defend it!” be it with the unborn child, be it with the person who is close to dying: every life is sacred!
I greet all those who work for life, the docents of the Roman Universities and those that collaborate in the formation of the new generations, so that they are able to build a welcoming society, fitting for every person.
I greet all the pilgrims, the families, the parish groups and the Associations from different parts of the world. In particular, I greet the faithful of Vienna, Granada, Melilla, Acquaviva delle Fonti and Bari, as well as the students of Penafiel (Portugal) and Badajoz (Spain).
I wish you all a good Sunday. Please, do not forget to pray for me. Have a good lunch and see you soon!
[Original text: Italian]
Blogger SHARE of ZENIT Translation by Virginia M. Forrester
Novena Prayer to Saint Agatha, Virgin Martyr. Oh St. Agatha, who withstood the unwelcome advances from unwanted suitors, and suffered pain and torture for your devotion to Our Lord, we celebrate your faith, dignity and martyrdom.Protect us against rape and other violations, guard us against breast cancer and other afflictions of women, and inspire us to overcome adversity. Pray also, Glorious Saint for the special favor we ask through you? (Here state your request) Oh St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr, mercifully grant that we who venerate your sacrifice, may receive your intercession. O God, Who dost make the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant unto Thy people to love that which Thou dost command and desire that which Thou dost promise, that amid the changes of this world, our heart shall there be fixed where true joys may be found. Grant what we ask through the intercession of St. Agatha, we ask it through Jesus Christ Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, One God, world without end.Amen. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be Say for 9 days
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday reached out to Americans urging them to make this year’s Super Bowl a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity to the world.
In a specially recorded video message for the event, which will hold the attention of much of the nation and command a television audience larger than for any other event of the year, the Pope points out that great sporting events like the championship game of the National Football League are highly symbolic, and show that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace.
“By participating in sport, we are able to go beyond our own self-interest - and in a healthy way - we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules. May this year's Super Bowl be a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity to the world” he said.
The 2017 Super Bowl takes place in Houston and features the final NFL showdown between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is scheduled to attend, will be the fourth sitting vice president to see the game in person.