During this month of February, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity continue to highlight followers of St. Francis that appear in the Franciscan calendar of saints. We are inspired by the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan, a group of Christians who were executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki. Franciscans were among them.
About the year 1592, King Philip II of Spain delegated Father Peter Baptist Blasquez, a Franciscan of Manila, to negotiate peace with Hideyoshi, the military dictator of Japan at the time who was looking to invade the Philippine Islands. Peter Baptist, who came from an ancient Spanish family of the nobility, arrived in Japan with three companions in June, 1593. He succeeded in efforts of peace, and even obtained permission to spread Christianity throughout Japan. Peter Baptist with his associates, converted hundreds of pagans to Christianity and founded convents and churches.
Not everyone was happy about these developments. Some convinced Hideyoshi that the missionaries were out to dethrone him. He ordered the Franciscan missionaries and their helpers to be imprisoned and put to death as offenders against the crown. Peter Baptist was among the prisoners, together with his companions, the two priests Martin of the Ascension and Francis Blanco, the cleric Philip of Jesus, who was a native Mexican, the two lay brothers Francis of St. Michael and Gonsalvo Garcia. Included were also 17 Tertiaries who rendered services to the missionaries as catechists, teachers, sacristans, and infirmarians as well as three Jesuits. They are now known as the Martyrs of Japan.
This brief music video depicts their journey of martyrdom.
The first Martyrs of Japan were canonized in 1862. They are commemorated on February 5 when, on that date in 1597, the twenty-six missionaries and converts were killed by crucifixion. Two hundred and fifty years later, when Christian missionaries returned to Japan, they found a community of Japanese Christians that had survived underground.
Pope Francis, recognizing the witness of these many martyrs, encouraged missionary enthusiasm. “If the Church was born Catholic (that is, universal), it means that it was born ‘going out,’ that it was born missionary,” adding that it is love of Christ which compels us “to offer our lives for the Gospel… those who “make the most” of the chances life offers are the ones “who leave the safe shore and become passionate about the mission of communicating life to others.” May we be open to such witness.