In the sixteenth century Francis Xavier brought the teaching of christianity to the far east. Starting his mission in India he would make it as far as Japan in 1549. St. Francis Xavier died in 1552.
Ten years later, in 1562, a child was born who was named Paulo (Paul) Miki. Born into a wealthy family and the son of a military leader, Paul Miki grew up in the catholic faith and entered the Society of Jesus in 1580 attending the Jesuit college which had been established in Anziquiama. On his way to becoming the first Japanese born priest, persecution against Christianity began and Paul Miki along with 25 other Christians were sent on a 600 mile journey to be executed. Meant as a form of mockery, the company stood their ground in faith, singing hymns along the way and preaching the gospel. Their destination was Nagasaki, where crosses had been erected for them to be crucified on. When hung the Japanese soldiers thrust spears into the bodies of the martyrs to end their lives.
But this was not the end. Persecution continued and many more martyrs would follow until Catholicism was outlawed in Japan around 1632. Two centuries later, in 1858 Christians were permitted to come into Japan again. It was soon discovered by the missionaries that the Church in Japan had survived in secret. News spread back to Rome and in 1862 the martyrs in Japan were canonized by Pope Pius IX. February 6th is the feast day for Paul Miki and his Companions. Also knows as the Nagasaki Martyrs.
The idea of a pilgrimage has been a part of Christian practice from very early times. Often the point is to walk to a holy place, a shrine, or follow in the footsteps of Christ’s passion either in Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa or at the local church participating in the Stations of the Cross. St. Paul Miki and his companions fulfilled the truest sense of a pilgrimage, a 600 mile way of sorrows, and as he hung strapped to a cross it is reported that St. Paul Miki forgave those who persecuted him.