Pope Francis visits and prays before the Martyrs Memorial on Nishizaki Hill. A place that tells "the darkness of death and martyrdom, but also the light of the resurrection". The Japanese martyrs who inspired the Pope's missionary vocation. "Continuously make the evangelizing zeal burn". Appeal for religious freedom in Asia and the world.
Nagasaki (AsiaNews) - The visit to the Monument of the Martyrs of Nagasaki - which recalls the crucifixion of Paolo Miki and 25 other companions, including three children - opened the first full day of Pope Francis' journey to Japan. It is an opportunity to talk about the martyrs of the past, but also about the martyrs of today and to make an appeal for religious freedom, a right that is violated in most countries in Asia.
Upon arrival on Nishizaki hill in the late morning, the pontiff was greeted by the director, Fr. Domenico Vitali, who in recent days explained to AsiaNews the value of the monument and the museum connected to it. A family offered him flowers which the Pope placed in front of the Memorial. A descendant of the martyrs gives him a candle that Francis lit as a sign of "light": "Yes, here - he said - we see the darkness of death and martyrdom, but also the light of the resurrection, as the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the new life that Jesus wishes to bestow on us".
From a personal point of view, this is perhaps the culminating point of the Pope's journey as a young Jesuit he wanted to be a missionary in the Land of the Rising Sun. He remembers him in his greeting: " I have come to this monument of the martyrs to pay homage to these holy men and women. But I also come in humility, as one who himself, as a young Jesuit from “the ends of the earth”, found powerful inspiration in the story of the early missionaries and the Japanese martyrs. May we never forget their heroic sacrifice! May it not remain as a glorious relic of the past, to be kept and honored in a museum, but rather as a living memory, an inspiration for the works of the apostolate and a spur to renewed evangelization in this land".
Francis also recalled the visit to the same place made by his predecessor: "Saint John Paul II saw this place not simply as the mount of the martyrs but a true Mount of the Beatitudes, where our hearts can be stirred by the witness of men and women filled with the Holy Spirit and set free from selfishness, complacency and pride (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 65). For here the light of the Gospel shone forth in the love that triumphed over persecution and the sword. This shrine is above all a monument to Easter, for it proclaims that the last word – despite all evidence to the contrary – belongs not to death but to life. We are not destined for death but for the fullness of life. This was the message the martyrs proclaimed".
His thoughts then went to the martyrs of our time. The Pope does not cite any nation, but near Japan there are the Christians of North Korea and those of China who fall within his definition, and further away the many persecuted by fundamentalism. "Brothers and sisters - he says - in this place we are united with those Christians throughout the world who, in our own day, suffer martyrdom for the faith. They are the martyrs of the twenty-first century and their witness summons us to set out with courage on the path of the Beatitudes. Let us pray with them and for them. Let us speak out and insist that religious freedom be guaranteed for everyone in every part of our world. Let us also condemn the manipulation of religions through “policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women” (Document on Human Fraternity, Abu Dhabi, 4 February 2019)".
After reciting the Angelus, and before leaving to celebrate Mass in the Baseball Stadium, the Pope was gifted a picture of Blessed Julian Nakaura, a young Japanese noble who took part in the historic diplomatic mission to Rome in 1585 and who, having become a Jesuit priest, died a martyr during persecutions against Christians. He was one of the 188 Japanese martyrs beatified in Nagasaki in 2008.