Christian martyrdom is the fullest expression of human freedom and reflects the supreme act of love, said a top
Vatican official at a Mass beatifying 188 Japanese martyrs. "It is not the punishment or the torture that creates a martyr," but rather the fact the person suffered and died for Christ, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, said during the beatification Mass in , on November 24. Nagasaki, Japan
After his Angelus address to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square the previous day, Pope Benedict XVI said the martyrs' beatification marked a significant event for the Catholic Church and all of
The 188 17th-century Japanese martyrs were tortured and killed in different cities between 1603 and 1639 after the Japanese government outlawed Christianity. According to Vatican Radio, more than 30,000 people attended the ceremony in the city's baseball stadium in the pouring rain to celebrate the beatification of Jesuit Father Peter Kibe Kasui and 187 companions.
The Pope asked people to "rejoice" and pray the beatified martyrs' "victory in Christ over sin and death fill us all with hope and courage”. During the Mass, which was concelebrated by 10 cardinals and bishops, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said martyrs of every age, place and time have all displayed the same dedicated faith in Jesus Christ.
Christian martyrdom "is the fullest exercise of human liberty and the supreme act of love", he said. The newly beatified, all but five of whom are lay men, women, and children, had been decapitated, crucified, burned at the stake or scalded to death in boiling water.
The beatified group included entire families who refused to renounce their beliefs. Bishop Francis Xavier Osamu Mizobe of
, president of the Japanese bishops' commission which prepared the beatifications, said there are another 5,000 people who could have been recognised as martyrs. Takamatsu
He said nearly 20,000 people lost their lives in
because of anti-Christian persecution. It is thought that less than one per cent of almost 130 million Japanese are Christians, and only around 450,000 are Catholics. Japan
Buddhism and Shintoism are the main religions in the country. Premier Taro Aso is reportedly the first Catholic to become prime minister. However, he rarely refers to his religion in public and did not attend the ceremony.
Photo is a statue of Blessed Peter Kibe Kasui, SJ