Today we celebrate the Feast of Martyrs of Japan on the 5th February, 1597.
This included five European Franciscan missionaries, one Mexican Franciscan, three Japanese Jesuits, and seventeen Japanese laymen, including three boys.
They were tortured and crucified at Nagasaki.
Christian missionaries had first arrived with Francis Xavier in the 1540s.
There were about 100,000 converts.
Persecution of Christians began with a ban in 1565. In 1587 Christianity was formerly banned. They were seen as being more loyal to Jesus than the Shogunate (the military leader).
After Christianity was banned it went underground. They were known as ‘hidden Christians’.
Between 1617 and 1632 two-hundred-and-five missionaries and native Christians were executed for their faith.
In 1858, Japan again permitted missionaries into the country. They found thousands of Christians still there.
For two-hundred years they lived their faith in secret.
This living of the faith in an ‘underground’ Church has endured in many places, in many countries. It still happens in our times.
Men and women, and even children, were given the strength by Christ to live their faith, despite persecution and even torture, and the threat of death.
They are a remainder to us and witness to us of the action of God, and the presence of God with us always.
We are not likely to experience that type of persecution here in Australia, although it still happens in many places.
We can, however, experience other challenges.
From those who do not understand their faith there can be a dismissal of our beliefs as being illogical or unreasonable, or irrelevant.
The publicity about the sad events regarding child sexual abuse by some Church people can, and does, generate negativity towards all things Catholic. This is not denying that these things had happened, we need to deal with this and not ignore it. We need to protect all children and vulnerable people. We need all to be safe.
Uninformed misconceptions about a perceived clash between Christian beliefs and science can also cause some to dismiss what we believe as ‘superstition’.
However, our faith is based on the real story of Jesus dying and rising.
An informed understanding of our faith makes sense while it also touches mystery.
Like the martyrs before us, we are given the strength to be like them bearing witness in our time.