Japan : Nishizaka in Nagasaki, “a major Catholic place of pilgrimage”

Source: FSSPX News

On June 10 of this year, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Japan designated the hill of Nishizaka in Nagasaki a “major national place of pilgrimage”, in keeping with what had been announced during its annual assembly in February 2012.  From now on pilgrims will be able to travel to Nagasaki from Kyoto, passing through Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, with planned stops in each of the five dioceses that they pass through, thus following the route traveled by the 26 Catholics who were crucified on February 5, 1597, on the hill of Nishizaka and canonized by Pius IX on June 8, 1862.

In 1587 the ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi published a decree banishing all Catholic missionaries, although at the beginning of his reign, in 1582, he had permitted the Jesuits to reside in Osaka and to preach there.  Japan’s Christian community at the time numbered 250 churches and 200,000 faithful;  in 1595 it would have 300,000 with 137 Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries.  The growth of the Catholic Church, fostered by the conversions of the daimyos—powerful feudal governors—gave pause to the authorities who had already had a bone to pick with the daimyos from the south.  In December of 1596, relying on calumnious statements by some of his governors against the missionaries, Toyotomi Hideyoshi decreed the extermination of all the missionaries and of the Japanese Christians.  On December 30 of that same year, Hideyoshi gave the order to mutilate the religious and the Christians who had been arrested in Kyoto, and to bring them via Osaka and Sakai to Nagasaki so as to be crucified there.  The official list of the condemned included twenty-four names;  two other Christians were added en route.  The prisoners, bound with ropes and displayed as an example to the population of the villages that they traveled through, had their left ear cut off and make a journey of more than 800 km (500 miles), by land and by sea, which lasted 26 days in mid-January, one of the coldest months of the year in that region.  Finally, on February 4, they arrived in Sonogi, 35 km (22 miles) from Nagasaki.

On February 5, 1597, the first 26 martyrs of Japan were crucified on the hill:  Jesuits, Franciscans and lay Christians mingled in one execution.  Their bodies were left exposed on the crosses for nine months.

Six hundred (600) other believers underwent martyrdom at the same place during the persecutions that bloodied Japan until 1873.  Some historians say that the number may have been as many as 300,000 martyrs.

The place of execution is a hill situated opposite the city and bay of Nagasaki, where the condemned Christians were put to death.  Today it bears the name “hill of martyrs” and is located near the central train station of Nagasaki.  In Japan, as in ancient Rome, execution by crucifixion was ignominious and was reserved for the worst criminals.  At the top of Nishizaka Hill a moving monument was erected in 1962, in honor of the 26 Christians who were forced to walk from Kyoto to that Japanese Golgotha where believers come to pray—the martyrs are represented in a very stylized way as standing upright, in rows.  Adjacent to a modern chapel, a museum houses many souvenirs from the era of the persecutions.

The Catholic Church, which has been present in Japan since the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier in 1549, comprises less than 1% of the Japanese population, around 0.5% Japanese Catholics and 0.5% foreign Catholics, for the most part migrants from Southeast Asia or Latin America.  – For an overview of the history of the Catholic Church in Japan, see the timeline at www.cbcj.catholic.jp/eng/ehistory/table01.htm (Sources:  apic/eda/jesuites – DICI no. 259 dated August 10, 2012)