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NEW BLESSEDS
from issue no. 12 - 2008

JAPAN. One hundred and eighty-eight 17th century martyrs elevated to the altars

Among them many children killed in odium fidei


An interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, on the beatification ceremony held in Nagasaki last November


Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins by Gianni Cardinale


The beatification ceremony for the 188 martyrs, in the baseball stadium in Nagasaki, 24 November 2008. The new Blesseds were killed between 1603 and 1639 in different places in Japan, during a religious persecution [© Afp/Grazia Neri]

The beatification ceremony for the 188 martyrs, in the baseball stadium in Nagasaki, 24 November 2008. The new Blesseds were killed between 1603 and 1639 in different places in Japan, during a religious persecution [© Afp/Grazia Neri]

The majority (183 out of 188) were lay people and a good number (18) were children under five. All were killed in odium fidei in 17th century Japan. The Church has recognized their martyrdom and the beatification ceremony was held in Nagasaki on 24 November. Under the new practice introduced by Benedict XVI, the celebration was organized by the local Church in the presence of a representative of the Pope. Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints arrived from Rome for the occasion. 30Days asked him some questions.

Your Eminence, who were the 188 new Japanese blesseds?
José Saraiva Martins: They were martyrs who were killed in odium fidei between 1603 and 1639 in sixteen different incidents and places during a religious persecution ordered by the Tokugawa shogun, from which point on Japan began a long and complete closure towards the West and to Western culture, involving the Catholic religion in it.
But were they martyrs of the Catholic faith or of Western culture?
SARAIVA MARTINS: These martyrs were not killed out of a general hostility towards Europeans, especially Portuguese and Spaniards, and their commercial activities. In the light of the historical documents consulted and in the memory of the Christians the martyrs were killed in spectacular and particularly cruel ways out of hatred of their faith in Jesus Christ and for no other reason.
Many of the 188 beatified were children who had not yet reached the age of reason. How is it possible to recognize them as martyrs?
SARAIVA MARTINS: This is not the first time it happens. Nowadays it is the criterion of the Congregation to accept as martyrs children killed in a context of religious persecution and belonging to a Christian community that includes adults, clearly aware of the reason for their deaths. Among the new blesseds, then, in addition to the children we have entire Christian families. This underlines the fact that the Christian faith was lived deeply in those homes. A good example for many families of our time.
How was the ceremony viewed by Japanese society?
SARAIVA MARTINS: First of all I like thinking of the persistent memory of these martyrs among the Japanese Christians today, made concrete in many funerary monuments, pilgrimages and commemorative ceremonies. The ceremony in Nagasaki was well attended and there was considerable coverage in the media, especially in ratio to the actual presence of Catholics in Japan who are – as is well known – a tiny minority. The celebration was attended also by the Japanese Ambassador to the Holy See, representing the Prime Minister Taro Aso who – for the first time in Japanese history – is a Catholic.


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