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Nagasaki: A Reflection

An eye-opening visit to the Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum

When you hear Nagasaki, most likely you'll immediately associate that name with atomic bomb and the Second World War. If you're a long-time resident of Japan, what would probably come to your mind when you hear Nagasaki would be champon, their signature noodle dish. Only a few will still remember Nagasaki for its ties with Christianity in Japan and in Asia.

A brief background: Catholicism came to Japan in 1549 via Kagoshima courtesy of St. Francis Xavier, Fr. Cosme de Torres SJ, and Fr. John Fernandez. At first the shogunate and the imperial government were supportive of the Catholic mission, but after seeing Catholicism as a threat, the government started to persecute Christians, beginning with the execution of the 26 Christian priests and laymen on February 5, 1597, on the orders of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The 26 martyrs were later canonized in 1862 by Blessed Pius IX. Four hundred years after, the famous Japanese sculptor Yasutake Funakoshi erected a granite-and-bronze monument in their honor.

Fast forward to Silver Week 2015, when I visited Northern Kyushu and the 26 Martyrs Monument and Museum (and the St. Philip Church located beside it). I came to Nagasaki not having read anything about why churches like St. Philip Church were even in Nagasaki. Two hours of reading each and every document and relic on display at the museum and I became aware of all that took place and  was moved by the tremendous faith the martyrs, and all the Christians in Japan, had in the face of severe persecution. Saint Paul Miki was even seen preaching the word of God as he was being burned to his death. Horrific, gallant, haunting, and humbling. Stories of religious persecution have existed throughout history; some against Christians, others (sadly) caused or perpetuated by Christians. But none of those affected me more than the one here. Maybe it's because this story happened close to home, and by home I mean both Japan and my home country, the Philippines. 

My visit to the 26 Martyrs Monument has made me realize that the faith bestowed on me is a gift, a tremendous blessing that I don't need to fight for with actual blood, but I still must treasure nonetheless.