Sunday, 9 August 2015

Martyrs of Nagasaki

Seventy years ago today, on August 9th 1945, an atom bomb fell on Nagasaki.Why Nagasaki ? The most westernized city in Japan, the centre of Christianity and of foreign trade, which for centuries had been Japan's window on the world?  Perhaps the man in the photo, staring at the ruins of the Catholic Cathedral, might have pondered the irony. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't combatants, but they've fought a greater battle by reminding the world that nuclear war is not a good thing. Nuclear weapons may have proliferated, but - thank God - no nation has been crazy enough to use them.

Thus we should think of the selflessness of the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki, crucified , like Jesus Christ himself,  in February 1597. Christianity had reached Japan barely 50 years before, when Francis Xavier "Apostle to the Indies" arrived at Kagoshima in 1549. Within a very short time, the Jesuits had made hundreds of thousands of converts, helped in no small part by long-standing  inter-daimyo rivalries.  But the very growth of Christianity posed a threat to stability, so it was suppressed. Thousands escaped to Macau. Japanese craftsmen built Macau's Church of St Paul's (read more here). Quite probably Japanese DNA features in the Macanese community since officially the Chinese government didn't allow Chinese people to remain in Macau overnight.  After the Japanese invasion of China, millions of refugees poured into Macau, a tiny enclave with hardly any resources. The Bishop said God would provide, no-one should be turned away.  Some of the 16th century cannons in the Monte Fort were supposedly sold. Weapons turned, not to plough shares, but to rice.

The Martyrs of Nagasaki were killed to send a political message. Huge crowds were forced to watch their sufferings. Yet they weren't silenced. From their crosses, they sang psalms. Three of the martyrs were Japanese. One was Paul Miki, scion of a samurai family, fearless in the face of death. He's quoted as calling out to the crowd "“I am a Japanese and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime. The only reason I am condemned to die is that I have taught the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am happy to die for that and accept death as a great gift from my Lord.”  He asked the crowd if they saw fear on the faces of his companions. He said they didn't fear because they believed in a higher level of existence.

True Christians, like Buddhists, and indeed any people with a moral base, don't hate. They break the vicious cycle. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by campaigning against nuclear weapons, serve a higher cause.  On 29th October 1943, in Hong Kong, 32 men and one extraordinarily brave woman were beheaded. Reverend Wong Shui Poon was among them. He was 65, a Cambridge graduate and head of the Chinese Christian community. He prayed with all the prisoners, Anglican or not, and stood by them as they were executed. He was the last to die, by which time the swords were blunt. The first cuts didn't sever his head, and he continued to pray.

No comments: