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Article: Nagasaki, the City of the Atomic Bomb – And of the Christian Martyrs

October 30, 2007

From Chiesa:

In effect, among the victims of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, two thirds of the small but vibrant Japanese Catholic community disappeared in a single day. It was a community that was nearly wiped out twice in three centuries.

In 1945, this was done through an act of war that was mysteriously focused on this city. Three centuries before, it was by a terrible persecution very similar to that of the Roman empire against the first Christians, with Nagasaki and its “hill of martyrs” again the epicenter.

And yet, the Japanese Catholic community was able to recover from both of these tragedies. After the persecution in the seventeenth century, Christians kept their faith alive by passing it on from parents to children for two centuries, in the absence of bishops, priests, and sacraments. It is recounted that on Good Friday of 1865, ten thousand of these “kakure kirisitan,” hidden Christians, streamed from the villages and presented themselves in Nagasaki to the stunned missionaries who had just recently regained access to Japan.

And again after the second slaughter in Nagasaki, in 1945, the Catholic Church was reborn in Japan. The most recent official data, from 2004, estimate that there are a little more than half a million Japanese Catholics. They are few in relation to a population of 126 million. But they are respected and influential, thanks in part to their solid network of schools and universities.

Moreover, if to the native Japanese are added the immigrants from other Asian countries, the number of Catholics doubles. A 2005 report from the commission for migrants of the bishops’ conference calculates that the total number of Catholics recently passed one million, for the first time in the history of Japan.

This background sheds new light on a decree authorized by Benedict XVI on June 1, 2007: the beatification of 188 martyrs from Japan, who join the 42 saints and 395 blesseds – all martyrs – already raised to the altars by previous popes.

The beatification – the first one ever held in Japan – will be celebrated on November 24, 2008, in Nagasaki, by the prefect of the congregation for the causes of saints, cardinal José Saraiva Martins, as the special envoy of Benedict XVI.

The 188 Japanese martyrs who will be beatified next year are classified in the documents of the canonical proceedings as “Father Kibe and his 187 companions.” They were killed on account of their faith between 1603 and 1639….

Full article here.


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  1. Another interesting aside is the story of Takashi Nagai. A recent convert to Catholicism he lost his wife to the Nagasaki bomb. He was not only a Doctor – but a radiologist.

    From an article I’ve read:
    In a quiet, compelling voice, he explained that the eight thousand Christians who had died instantly in the bomb were specially chosen by God. They were a holocaust, an expiation for all the sins committed during the war. These dead were “unblemished lambs,” sacrificial offerings to the Father in union with Christ, the Lamb of God.

    Those who survived—himself as well as his audience—were alive only because they were not worthy to offer so pure a sacrifice.

  2. hey… OMG, this site’s been so helpful to me. we’re learning about different historical genocide in my English 10 class, and now i have to write an essay on whichever genocide that i pick (that occured sometimes in history). I was online searching for some article about the french genocide: revoltin the vendée, and google led me to here. pretty much this is where i got all of my info for my essay. i’ve learn a lot more about the frenches. (ps: i’m a native french speaker.)

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