Preparations are taking place in Nagasaki, for the Beatification of 188 Japanese martyrs on 24 November. The men and women were killed for being Christian, between 1603 and 1639.
In a statement, the Japanese Bishops said: "the 188 martyrs were not political militants; they did not fought against a regime that forbade religious freedom. They were men and women with a profound and authentic faith, who led the way for those who believed. Their experience can be a reflection for each and every one of us."
In a community of nearly one million Catholics (out of 127 million inhabitants), the witness of the martyrs leads the Church to reflect on the role of the laity in transmitting the faith and the organization of the Church. "It is time to take the formation of our laity seriously," the Bishops said, pointing out the importance of the faith lived within the family and society.
The Bishops also emphasize the impressive witness of the many women among the 188 martyrs: "We have realized that, without these women, the Church in Japan today would not exist. We should see the Beatification of these female martyrs as a message of hope and consolation for all women of this country, whatever faith they are. The Beatification will thus be an opportunity to reflect on the need to value women and the feminine charism in Japanese Catholic communities."
Among the 188 martyrs, there also several examples for the Japanese clergy, including Fr Peter Kibe, Fr Nakaura, Fr Kintsuba, and others. "Each of these priests, leaves behind a message with a great lesson to be learned by all priests who today try to be good shepherds in modern-day Japan, the Bishops said. "
The event looks set to be a major celebration. More than 2,500 volunteers will be working in the ceremony in the Big-N Baseball Stadium, which fits 30,000 people. Organizers say that the Church-civil authorities collaboration will be a key to the event's success.
The Church in Nagasaki sees the event as a great gift from God, especially after the August 9, 1945 tragedy of the atomic bomb, that eliminated the first long-term Catholic community in Japan, present since the 16th century, killing nearly 64,000 Catholics, two-thirds of the entire Catholic population of the country.
The 188 Japanese martyrs to be beatified will be added to Japan's 42 saints and 395 blesseds (also all martyrs).
The Beatification Ceremony will be presided by Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, special envoy of Benedict XVI.