St. Paul Miki was born in Japan between 1564 and 1566. He joined the Jesuits and preached the gospel to the Japanese people with great success. When a Catholic persecution arose, he was arrested with 25 others and taken to Nagasaki where they were bound to crosses and speared.
St. Gonsalo Garcia was born in Bassein near Bombay around 1557. The Jesuits educated him and took him with them on a mission to Japan when he was 15. He spent eight years in Japan, quickly learned the language, and became a popular catechist. He left the mission and went to Manila in the Philippines where he eventually became a Franciscan lay brother.
In 1592, he sailed with other Franciscans, including St. Peter Baptista, as ambassadors from the Spanish Governor to the Emperor of Japan. They worked as preachers for four years and won many Japanese converts including the commander-in-chief, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
The enmity of the local Buddhist authorities combined with suspicion of Spanish political motives changed. The government arrested missionaries, mutilated them, and on February 5, 1597 crucified them at Nagasaki. They included five European Franciscan missionaries, one Mexican Franciscan missionary, three Japanese Jesuits, and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys. We celebrate their feast day on February 6.
An anonymous eyewitness wrote the following account of their martyrdom.
“The crosses were set in place. Father Pasio and Father Rodriguez took turns encouraging the victims. Their steadfast behavior was wonderful to see. Father Bursar stood motionless, his eyes turned heavenward. Brother Martin gave thanks to God’s goodness by singing psalms. He repeated, ‘Into your hands, Lord, I entrust my life.’ Brother Francis Branco also thanked God in a loud voice. Brother Gonsalvo in a very loud voice kept saying the Our Father and Hail Mary.
“Our brother, Paul Miki, saw himself standing now in the noblest pulpit he had ever filled. To his ‘congregation’ he began by proclaiming himself a Japanese and a Jesuit. He was dying for the Gospel he preached. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing and he ended his ‘sermon’ with these words: ‘As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I want to tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.’
“Then he looked at his comrades and began to encourage them in their final struggle. Joy glowed in all their faces, and in Louis’ most of all. When a Christian in the crowd cried out to him that he would soon be in heaven, his hands, his whole body strained upward with such joy that every eye was fixed on him.
“Anthony, hanging at Louis’ side, looked toward heaven and called upon the holy names: ‘Jesus, Mary!’ He began to sing a psalm: ‘Praise the Lord, you children!’ (He learned it in catechism class in Nagasaki. They teach the children psalms to help them learn their catechism.)
“Others kept repeating ‘Jesus, Mary!’ Their faces were serene. Some even urged those standing by to live worthy Christian lives. In these ways they showed their readiness to die.
“Then, according to Japanese custom, the four executioners began to unsheathe their spears. At this dreadful sight, all the Christians cried out, ‘Jesus, Mary!’ The storm of anguished weeping then rose to batter the very skies. The executioners killed them one by one. One thrust of the spear, then a second blow. It was over in a very short time.”
Tertullian in the 2nd Century said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”