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​St. Paul Miki and companions (February 6)

 
St. Paul Miki was born in Japan in 1562 and joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1580. Paul, along with twenty-five other Christians, was executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki, Japan, by officials determined to eradicate the Catholic Church from that country. Three Jesuits: Paul Miki, John Goto, and James Kisai; six Franciscans: Peter Baptist, Martin De Aquirre, Francis Blanco, Francis of St. Michael, Philip De Las Casas, and Gonsalo Garcia; and seventeen Japanese laymen, all Franciscans, were martyred.

 
A gifted preacher, Paul spoke his last sermon as he died. He proclaimed himself a good Japanese and a good Christian. "As I come to this moment," he told onlookers, "I tell you plainly that Christianity is the only way to salvation. I pardon my enemies and all who offend me, as my faith instructs me. I gladly pardon the emperor and all who sought my death. I beg them to be baptized and become Christians themselves."

 
Paul urged the others being executed to be strong in faith. They sang psalms and repeated the names of Jesus and Mary. Finally their executioners killed them one by one with their swords. For almost two centuries after its founding by St. Francis Xavier in 1549, the Japanese Church suffered severe persecutions. Almost 4,000 Japanese Catholics were put to death during that time. Foreign missionaries and priests were banished from the country, churches were destroyed and religious practices prohibited. Not until the late nineteenth century was the Church able to function freely again.