Friday, 8 July 2016

St Martin's Catholic Church and The Japanese Martyrs

From "The Catholic Herald" of 1967 comes this interesting letter.

Why is St Martin's called the Church of Our Lady and the Japanese Martyrs?

I was very interested in the history of St. Martin's parish in your February issue. In the article I read that the church was opened and blessed in February 1863 and given the name of 'Our Lady of the Annunciation and Martyrs of Japan!' 

I have wondered since as to why Father Guiramand should have called the church after the Martyrs of Japan. Our founder Cardinal Vaughan chose them as Patrons of our Society of Mill Hill so I decided to do a little research on the martyrs. Here are the results:

Japan's first missionary was the great St. Francis Xavier, who landed there in 1549 and preached and baptised many converts. His work was continued by other Spanish missionaries, mainly Franciscans and Jesuits. 

Towards the end of the sixteenth century the Church seemed to have gained a firm foothold. But, in Japan as in the Americas the Spanish missionaries aroused suspicions that they were simply preparing the way for a Spanish invasion and conquest. These suspicions led to an official ban on Christianity-but the missionaries continued their work--despite outbursts of persecution.

The first persecution took place in Nagasaki on February 5 1597 when six Franciscans, three Jesuits and seventeen laymen were crucified. These twenty-six were beatified in 1627 and canonised by Pope Pius IX on June 8 1862 and their feast was fixed for February 3.

It seems very likely that their feast coincided with the opening and blessing of the new church in St. Martin. Very many others were persecuted for the Faith in Japan and finally in 1640 Japan was closed to all foreigners.

It was only in 1854 that the Americans caused Japan to he re-opened. Soon afterwards the missionaries moved in again and in 1865 an extraordinary discovery was made.

A French priest discovered in Nagasaki a community of Christians, who had managed to keep their faith, without bishops or priests, and had handed it down from one generation to another.

So there it is. I hope I have helped the people of St. Martin's in knowing something about their patron saints. May we all be ready like them to make sacrifices for our faith.

Sean C. Kennelly, M.H.M. St. Joseph's Missionary Society,
Mill Hill,
London, N.W.7.

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