We know little about Blessed Mary Magdalen Kiota except that she was a Japanese princess, the relative of a local lord, and that she was a Catholic and a Dominican tertiary. Arrested for sheltering missionaries, she was burned to death at Nagasaki in 1620. Mary Magdalen Kiota was beatified in 1867. She was one of many Japanese Christians who were martyred in the terrible persecutions of this time.
The faith arrived in Japan in 1549, when Saint Francis Xavier landed at Satsuma. He converted nearly 30,000 Japanese in a two-year period. Thirty years later, over 200,000 Christians and 250 churches existed in Japan, with Jesuits and other missionaries working to spread the faith. At that time, Hideyoshi, the acting highest-ranked official of the emperor (referred to as taiko), had tolerance for the faith, despite the fear of his court. Many in Japan believed that the Europeans intended to invade the country, and that the Church was an invasion party in disguise.
Hideyoshi, bowing to public pressure, ordered a persecution. On 5 February 1597, twenty-six Christians, including eight European missionaries, were publicly crucified at Nagasaki. When Hideyoshidied the following year, a period of cooperative calm prevailed for the next decade. During that time, Christianity flourished, with 130 Jesuits, joined by 30 Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, and some secular priests staffing missions.
However, when Tokugawa Ieyasu became the shogun of Japan in 1600, he published an edict abolishing Catholicism. Persecution began again, furthered by Tokugawa’s sons and heirs. In 1622, the “Great Martyrdom” took place at Nagasaki, claiming the lives of more that fifty Japanese and Europeans. Between 1624 and 1627, hundreds more were slain, imprisoned, or exiled. Most were burned alive, crucified, or beheaded, some with small children in their arms.
Persecutions continued until 1637, when the last priests were killed or deported. When Christian missionaries returned to Japan 250years later, they found a community of Japanese Christians that had survived underground.
On 17 August we celebrate the memory of many more Japanese martyrs, including Blesseds Michael Kiraiemon, Francis Kurobiove, Miguel Kurobioye, Martin Gomez, Luke Kiemon, and Francis Kuloi.
On 18 August we celebrate the memory of Blessed Mary Guengoro and her husband Thomas and son James, who were crucified at Kokura in 1620.
On 19 August we remember Blessed Thomas Koyanangi, who was arrested as a passenger on the ship of Blessed Joachim Firayama-Diz and beheaded at Nagasaki in 1620.
On 25 August we remember Blesseds Louis Sasanda, Louis Sotelo, Peter Vasquez, and companions, who were martyred at Shimbara in 1624.