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February 6
Ss. Paul (Paulo) Miki and Companions

The Japanese Martyrs

Proto-martyrs of the Far East

Today we commemorate the life and death (or rather, lives and death) of the first martyrs to the Far East — St. Paul Miki and companions.  I always thought the “and companions” designation was slightly unfortunate.  We actually know the names of at least five of these companions and yet, since Paulo was the most prominent, the others are simply relegated to “companion” status.  Regardless, it is important to discuss why they are important.

In 1597 the Gospel had already come to Japan almost a half-century earlier.  It was brought there by a great Jesuit missionary (I know, one doesn’t normally think of the words “great” and “Jesuit” in the same breath — inside Catholic joke, sorry).  That man’s name was St. Francis Xavier.  For the record, it’s pronounced /zay-vyer/.  The “x” is silent.  You see, Paul and his 25 friends were filled with zeal for the Gospel and had intended to further the evangelization of the Japanese people.  However, there were some Spanish sea captains who couldn’t help but boast that, erroneously, the mission was part of a larger effort to pave the way for Spanish and Portugese colonization of the islands.  And so, on February 5, 1597, after being lead through the streets of numerous villages in a grand procession, Paulo and his friends were executed for the faith.  Among the dead were several three Japanese Jesuits (including Paulo), several Franciscans, a few Spainiards, a physician, a soldier, and, in total, seventeen Japanese lay people.  They were felled by a lance (similar to Our Lord’s piercing).  Pius IX (longest serving pope in history) canonized them in 1862.

Memorial to the 26 martyrs in Nagasaki

On second thought, perhaps it’s not so bad being known simply as “companions”.  Think about it.  These men and women who died with Paulo were not so much his companions as all of them were companions of Christ.  Isn’t that what we are all called to anyway?  To die in the company of other saints and for the glory of Christ our great friend is a glorious death indeed.