.- Places of major importance for Japanese Christianity, including the Nagasaki basilica commemorating 26 Catholic martyrs, have been selected as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
“These sites bear unique testimony to a cultural tradition nurtured by hidden Christians in the Nagasaki region who secretly transmitted their faith during the period of prohibition from the 17th to the 19th century,” said the June 30 announcement from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
“Together they reflect the earliest activities of Christian missionaries and settlers in Japan – the phase of encounter, followed by times of prohibition and persecution of the Christian faith and the final phase of the revitalization of Christian communities after the lifting of prohibition in 1873.”
All the sites are in the northwest part of the Japanese island of Kyushu.
Nagasaki’s Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan, also known as Oura Church, commemorates the 20 Japanese and six foreign-born Christians martyred for their faith in 1597 after Japanese leaders became increasingly suspicious of missionaries.
In a March 2015 ad limina visit with Japan’s Catholic bishops, Pope Francis reflected on these missionaries and the martyrs of early Japan.
“The embers of faith which the Holy Spirit ignited through the preaching of these evangelizers and sustained by the witness of the martyrs were kept safe,” Pope Francis said, “through the care of the lay faithful who maintained the Catholic community’s life of prayer and catechesis in the midst of great danger and persecution.”
Among the martyrs of 1597 were seminarian Saint Paul Miki and his companions.
Sentenced to die by crucifixion and lancing, they were first marched 600 miles to the city of Nagasaki. During the journey, they underwent public torture meant to terrorize other Japanese believers in Christ.
Read more at Catholic News Agency.