May 14, 2009

Thanksgiving Mass in Yonezawa on Saturday

Next Saturday, on 16th May at 11 am, the Thanksgiving Mass of beatification of 53 Martyrs of Yonezawa will be offered in Hokusanbara, the exact place of martyrdom of Blessed Luis Amakasu and 52 companions executed in 1629. The Holy Eucharist will be presided by myself together with Archbishop Alberto Bottari de Castello, the Papal Nuncio to Japan, Bishop Tani of Saitama and Bishop Hiraga of Sendai. More than 700 people are expected to join.

Yonezawa is in Yamagata prefecture within Niigata diocese. Niigata diocese used to be the SVD prefecture established in 1912. On 28 April, 1928, Fr.Schwientek, SVD found the place of martyrdom. It was beside a stone statute of Buddha. Fr.Schwientek opened the mission in Yonezawa on 27th January, 1927. He volunteered to come to Yonezawa after he read a book about history of Japanese persecution and got to know about the martyrdom in Yonezawa. Thanks to Fr.Schwientek who immediately bought the land, we still have the place as the memorial of these 53 blessed.

All 53 were lay person. Leader was Blessed Luis Amakasu Uemon who was a high ranking Samurai in Uesugi household. He was baptised in Tokyo around year 1610 while his master was staying in Tokyo, then called EDO. Upon returning to Yonezawa, he invited 2 of his sons and started catechism. Eventually those 2 were baptised. Then blessed Amakasu ordered 2 sons to bring the good news to their family while they knew very well that the central government at that time had banned Christianity. Though the prohibition by the government and fear that they might also be executed as the 26 martyrs in Nagasaki, people continue to join the community which even reached over 3000. (Today we have less than 300 Catholics in Yonezawa) There was no priest staying with them. Probably, only once or twice a year, foreign missionary had managed to visit people in secrecy to celebrate mass. But because of good example Blessed Amakasu and others showed to people, so many joined the community. Then finally because of strong pressure from the central government, Uesugi decided to arrest leaders of Christians. On 12 January 1629, 53 were arrested and immediately executed in Hokusanbara in Yonezawa. It is said that at the moment of the execution, an officer told the crowd to kneel down since these people were not criminals but holy people. They were respected by many.

The life style of these martyrs are teaching us how we should live and how we should spread the value of gospel in modern days Japan.

The photo above is the relics of Japanese martyrs. In 1614, missionaries at that time took quite a number of relics of Japanese martyrs out from Japan to Macao. They were returned to Japan in 1995 and kept in Nagasaki since then. To commemorate the beatification of 188 martyrs last November, in which 53 of Yonezawa was included, Bishops Conference had made the ostensory of the relics. It is expected to bring the ostensory to Vatican in November to present it to Holy Father.

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