In modern times we closely (solely?) understand the word “martyr” to mean someone who has died for their faith. The great cloud of witnesses is indeed replete with women and men of the first four centuries of the Christian era who died rather than turn from faith in the RIsen Jesus. And yet the underlying biblical meaning of “martyr” is actually something that all Christians are called to be.
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Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” tells the story of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan. Although the film is based on a fictional novel by the Japanese author Shusaku Endo, many of the events and people depicted in “Silence” are real.
Francis Xavier, SJ and other Jesuits landed in Japan in 1549. From then, a steady stream of Jesuits, mainly Portuguese, continued to arrive through the 1570s. It is estimated that 300,000 to 500,000 Japanese were baptized as Christians. According to Fr.Antoni Ucerler, SJ, an expert in Japanese Christian history, “Perhaps a certain number of these Christians were not really believers. Some did abandon the faith when commanded to do so, but many others held fast to their faith,” he explains. “That is comprehensible, because those were the days when, just as in Europe, if your feudal lord told you to do something, you did it.” Continue reading →