The history of the Christian faith in Japan is often one of toil and martyrdom. The story of Saint Paul Miki and Companions is an exemplary illustration of the plight of Christians in Japan.
Paul Miki was born in 1562 in Tounucumada, Japan to a military family, and was the son of a Japanese military leader. He was educated at the Jesuit college of Anziquiama. Though Miki was the heir to a great inheritance and social position, he was instead drawn to the preaching of the great Jesuit missionary St. Frances Xavier. In 1580, Miki decided to join the Jesuits.
When Christians, especially Jesuits, came to Japan originally, they were not met with opposition. A new faith was welcomed, but mainly due to Japan’s hope for further economic and trade expansion. The tide turned, however, in 1596 when Emperor Taikosoma rose to power. He launched a brutal retaliation against the Christian missionaries. Taikosoma’s aim was not only to check the spread of Christianity, but to wipe it out completely.
Known for his eloquent preaching, Miki was an easy target for Taikosoma’s persecution. Thus, in 1597, Paul Miki and twenty-five companions were arrested. Miki’s friends included fellow Jesuits, Franciscans, catechists, doctors, and fellow laypeople. They were subsequently marched over 600 miles over the span of thirty days. Miki and his companions were given multiple opportunities to renounce the Christian faith and be set free, but every person refused and remained steadfast in their faith.
Coming to Nagasaki, on a hill now known as Holy Mountain, Miki and his companions were tied to crosses and crucified. While hanging on the cross, Paul Miki began to preach in a loud voice, saying:
“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… 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.”
While still hanging on their crosses, Paul Miki and his fellow companions were stabbed to death. Miki and his companions would become a symbol of Christianity in Japan’s future.
Paul Miki is to be remembered as a man who lived for the truth of the Gospel above all, even unto death. He believed that the truth of the Gospel had to be shared with the Japanese people so that salvation could be won for all.
Thinking that martyring people would destroy the faith, the Japanese government believed that they had eliminated all traces of Christianity. Missionaries who returned to Japan in the 1800s found thousands that had secretly preserved the Christian faith after the deaths of the Japanese martyrs.
Saint Paul Miki and Companions were canonized in 1862. We celebrate his feast on February 6.