Jul 14, 2015

Mass to commemorate 53 Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa@Yamagata Prefecture

What is the meaning of martyrdom in modern world? We have a lot of martyrs in the early history of Catholic Mission in Japan. Our diocese also have quite a number of them whom we do not have any official records of names but we know that a number of Christians were executed because of their faith in 16 and 17 century.

In 2008, 188 of these martyrs from all over Japan were beatified in Nagasaki. Among them were 53 Martyrs led by Blessed Luis Amakasu Uemon in Yonezawa in present day Yamagata Prefecture in Niigata Diocese.

All these 53 martyrs were member of clan which served Uesugi family in 17 century. And these martyrs are teaching us the meaning of our life, which is the answer to the question; "What is the purpose of our life in this world?" Most important fact of these martyrs is not that they died but is how they lived, lived as witnesses of Gospel value.

Following is my homily during the Mass at Hokusanbara former execution ground where majority of these 53 Blessed Martyrs were killed on 12 January, 1629. Commemoration Mass was offered on Sunday, 12 July. The celebration should been on 12 January but as the official feast day for 188 Blessed martyrs is on 1st July and the city of Yonezawa is always under heavy snow in January, we celebrate the Mass for 53 Blessed on Sunday in July.

More than 100 people joined the Mass this year with 6 priests. I presided over the Mass under very hot Sun shine.


What is the purpose of our life in this world? This is the question which 53 Christians of Yonezawa led by Blessed Luis Amakasu Uemon who were martyred on 12 January, 1629 had tried to answer throughout their lives.

What is the purpose of our life in this world? And this same question is in front of us, today, those who live after 400 years of these Blessed martyrs, waiting us to find answers in our lives.

We live in a world with plenty of information. Whether we like it or not, we have to maneuver through the tidal wave of information nowadays. Of course, there are important information which we may need to sustain our lives or give us joy and hope  but, at the same time, there are useless ones for our lives also. Once a while, within these wave of information, we encounter a cry of heart which leaves deep impact on our own hearts.

I just encountered such a cry of heart recently in the sad news of a Junior High student, a 13 year-old boy from Iwate prefecture, committed suicide after years of bullying, or IJIME, by school mates. In a TV interview, his grandfather said that the boy was bullied because "he was a boy with kind heart."

What is going on in our society where a boy with kind heart are bullied and cornered in to commit suicide? People with kind hearts are the one who cares for others and try to protect lives, aren't they? However the reality of this society is different. It does not allow a person with kind heart to survive through. What do we try to preserve in this society? What are our priorities? What is the purpose of our life today?

What do we know to answer this question based on our faith? In the Book of Genesis, after creating the first man, God said that 'it is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper.'(Gen.2:18) Then he created the other person. Therefore we are created and given this precious gift of life to be "helper of each other." And our lives are created as image of God with such magnificent dignity.

If that is the case, then, just worrying about ourselves and not caring for others does not fulfill our very reason of being in this world. We are to be helpers for each other. Therefore, we also have to realize that everyone in this world had been created to be helpers for ourselves and, thus, we ourselves are given a mission to be helpers for other people.

Caring for others, being kind to each other, helping each other, loving each other. All these do not depend on our personal characters but, rather, these are the very essence of being a human. We do so because we are missioned to be so by God our creator.

Pope Francis issued his Encyclical, "Laudato Si" on 18 June. This Encyclical treats the topic of environment, particularly the climate change issue, and call all people to take immediate action to fight against climate change. In the Encyclical, Holy Father wrote that when we consider our responsibility for future generations on the issue of protection of environment we reach the question of "what is the purpose of our life in this world?"

God created us and said, according to the Book of Genesis that " be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth." (Gen.1:28)

Holy Father explains in the Encyclical the meaning of this "dominion" over other creatures saying that God did not give us just freehand to do what ever we want over the creatures to satisfy our desires. Rather he made us steward of all the creatures so that we are all responsible to care for environment to create the world as God desires. And this responsibility is not only among present generation but is also for future generations.

Sometimes we hear criticism that stressing the point of protecting human life or protecting environment are for "weak people" and real "strong people" choose to fight. Is that really so? To protect human life or being a helper for each other is not an easy task to fulfil in this modern world. Sometimes it demands us to risk our lives. The reality of this society made a boy with kind heart to commit suicide. Protecting environment requires us to change our life style radically and it may arose quite a resistance among the circle who do not want to leave comfort zone of present life. These must be choices for "strong people." Fulfilling mission of God is the real choice for us which requires courageous decision.

And today, we have our ancestors in faith who sacrificed their lives to protect human life and being helper for others. Through their lives, they became witness of this mission of God to show other people what is the purpose of our life in this world.

With the intercession of these 53 Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa, let us pray to God that we would have courage to be witnesses of this mission of God to show others the true purpose of our life in this world.


After the Mass, participants shred BENTO meal together. Filipino community from Shinjo Church shred beautiful songs. Thank you for everyone to join the Mass.

No comments:

Post a Comment