CATHOLIC bishops in Japan are calling for the return of relics of 59 Japanese martyrs housed in Macao, ahead of the reversion of the Portuguese port in south-east China to Beijing at the end of the decade.
But the relics, of missionaries and other Catholics from Nagasaki, martyred in Japan in the 15th and 16th centuries, have been mixed with the remains of martyrs from elsewhere during their three centuries in the Portuguese colony of Macao.
Bishop Domingos Lam KaTseung of Macao expressed the willingness of his diocese to consider the request made by the Japanese bishops for the relics' return. But identifications would have to be made first, he said. "Macao is only a temporary shelter for the martyrs," the bishop stressed, although he hoped that some of the bones would he left behind for local Catholics to venerate.
The transfer of the relics to Japan was first mooted by Japan's Catholics eight years ago following concerns surrounding Portugal's surrender of Macao to the Chinese authorities in December 1999. Fr Yuki Rogo, director of the Martyrs' Museum in Nagasaki, visited Macao last month to examine the remains.
The relics were brought to Macao by a Portuguese merchant ship more than 300 years ago and since 1835 have been kept in the church of St Francis Xavier on an outlying island of the territory.