BY CAROL GLATZ
CHRISTIAN martyrdom is the fullest expression of human freedom and reflects the supreme act of love, a top Vatican official has said at a Mass beatifying 188 Japanese martyrs.
"It is not the punishment or the torture that creates a martyr," but rather the fact the person suffered and died for Christ, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, said during the bentification Mass in Nagasaki, Japan.
The martyrs were tortuted and killed in different cities between 1606 and 1639 after the government outlawed Christianity.
More than 30,000 people attended the ceremony in the city's baseball stadium to celebrate the beatification of Jesuit Fr Peter Kibe Kasui and 187 companions.
After his Sunday Angelus address to pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI said the
martyrs' beatification marked a significant event for the Catholic Church and all of Japan.'The Pope asked people to rejoice and pray that the beatified martyrs' "victory in Christ over sin and death fill us all with hope and courage.
"I pledge my spiritual nearness on this occasion, which is so significant for the Catholic community, and for the whole Land of the Rising Sun," the Pontiff said.
During the Mass, concelebrated by 10 cardinals and bishops, Cardinal Saraiva said martyrs of every age, place and time have all displayed the same dedicated faith in Jesus Christ.
Christian martyrdom "is the fullest exercise of human liberty and the supreme act of love", he said. Dying for one's faith in Christ is "an act of love toward God and humanity. including the persecutors", the cardinal said. The newly beatified, all but five of whom are lay men, women, and children, had been decapitated, crucified, burned at the stake or scalded to death in boiling water. The beatified group included entire families who refused to renounce their beliefs. They ranged in age from one to 80. Four were priests but most were lay Catholics.
No government officials attended the beatification, not even Prime Minister Taro Aso, Japan's first Christian leader.
The beatification ceremony was the largest to be held in Asia to date.
By beatifying these men and women the Church is underlining the importance of persevering in the belief that only God can save mankind, said Archbishop Joseph Takaini of Nagasaki.
The Japanese martyrs also highlight the value of religious freedom and the necessity of facing persecu
tion with non-violence if there is to be peace, he said.
Cardinal Saraiva said the Church was sending a strong message to today's young people and laity to strive to live a life of holiness.
Bishop Francis Xavier Osamu Mizobe of Takamatsu told Vatican Radio there were another 5,000 people who could have been recognised as martyrs.
He said nearly 20,000 people lost their lives in Japan because of anti-Christian persecution.
Brought to Japan in 1549 by Jesuit St Francis Xavier, Christianity was banned by feudal lords fearful that foreign influence would undermine their power.
Fewer than one per cent of Japanese are Christians and fewer than 500,000 are Catholic. Prime Minister Tam Aso is the first Catholic to become prime minister.
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