Jul 18, 2013

53 Martyrs' Feastday Celebration in Yonezawa

On Sunday, 14 July, the commemorating celebration of 53 Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa was held in Hokusanbara, the exact place of martyrdom of Blessed Luis Amakasu and 52 companions executed in January, 1629. The Holy Eucharist was presided by myself together with all the three priests working in Yamagata district and one from Niigata Cathedral. More than 150 people joined the celebration including several pilgrims from Niigata area.  Hokusanbara is in Yonezawa city which consists of Yamagata district together with Yamagata, Shinjo, Tsuruoka, Sakata and Nagai parishes.

On 28 April, 1928, Fr.Schwientek, SVD who was in charge of mission in Yonezawa at that time found the exact site of martyrdom of 1629. It was beside a stone statute of Buddha in the peripheral of Yonezawa city, in quite a distance from the main castle of the city. In fact Fr.Schwientek volunteered to come to Yonezawa after he had read a book about history of Christian persecution in Japan and got to know about the martyrdom in Yonezawa. Thanks to Fr.Schwientek who immediately bought the site at that time.

All these 53 Blessed Martyrs are lay faithfuls. Leader of them was Blessed Luis Amakasu Uemon who was a high ranking Samurai in Uesugi household. He was baptized in Tokyo around year 1610 while his master was staying in Tokyo, which was named EDO city at that time. Upon returning to Yonezawa, he invited 2 of his sons and started his catechism class which later became quite popular among followers of him. Eventually those 2 sons were baptized. Then blessed Amakasu commissioned 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.

These 53 Blessed Martyrs are included among 188 Blessed Martyrs of Japan led by Blessed Peter Kibe. Their feast day in 1st July.  Niigata diocese organises diocesan wide celebration occasionally but organises the Yamagata district celebration every year in Hokusanbara. (By the way, as you may see from the photo above, three Mass servers were in fact Altar lady's.  They are from Shinjo parish and are originally from Philippines and our important members of Catholic community in Niigata diocese. )

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