Japanese Martyrs for Religious Liberty – Remembering the Lessons of the Past

Painting_of_the_Nagasaki_Martyrs (1)This week we celebrate the 2015 Fortnight for Freedom. As we examine the international challenges to religious liberty, we are encouraged by our shepherd, Bishop Loverde, to “use this period of time for prayer, study, and advocacy,”  so that we are, “ equipped with the spiritual and practical resources needed to bear witness to the fullness of  faith in our culture.”

Today, we share a blog post from several years ago that remains relevant.

By: Caitlin Bootsma

It seems to me that one of the recurring habits of mankind is to forget the lessons of the past and focus entirely on the present day. In the Church, however, we recognize a wealth of men and women who have reached our ultimate goal of heaven whom we can learn from. Their lives, in various places and times, instruct us (if we are willing to listen) not on how to form a utopia on earth or to achieve status, recognition or wealth, but rather on how to live a life close to God, regardless of the circumstances.

We’ve been talking a lot as a nation over the last year about the issue of religious liberty. We’ve questioned how our legal right to religious liberty is being protected, and many of us have contacted our legislators, prayed and spread the word about ways this fundamental liberty has been threatened. It is easy to think that we will always be able to worship and live our lives according to our beliefs. Yet, over and over again throughout history, we see that this has not always been the case.

Today (February 6) is the memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions (also known as the Martyrs of Nagasaki), 26 faithful Catholics who were martyred in Japan for practicing their faith. When Saint Francis Xavier and the Jesuits first arrived on the shores of Japan (a very insular country at that time with little contact with other nations) they were tolerated and then even welcomed. However, while hundreds of thousands of Japanese converted to Catholicism, the freedom to practice religion ultimately depended on the perspective of the political rulers of the time. In the late sixteenth century, it became politically advantageous to ban Christianity, and these 26 Catholics were rounded up and then publicly mutilated, crucified and struck with spears.

This post first appeared in Encourage and Teach on February 6, 2013. View the full text here

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