Saturday, November 10, 2012

November 11, Saint Marina of Omura

November the Eleventh marks the 378th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Marina of Omura, canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 18, 1987.  I first learned of her story on seeing her statue in the courtyard of the Kako-machi Catholic Church in Omura, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan:  a lady in lay Dominican garb clutching a crucifix to her breast and standing atop a crown of flames that would send her straight to Heaven, her face aglow with faith and hope and love—and superhuman strength. 
She had dedicated her life and her virginity to Christ:  a vow which was anathema to the Shogun up in Edo (modern-day Tokyo):  Iemitsu, a sin-enslaved sadist who would prowl the streets of his capital at night in disguise, heavily guarded, looking for innocent victims to test the sharpness of his sword on.  Of all his imagined enemies he feared Christ the most.    
Marina lived in Omura, a very long way from the capital but just a few hours’ ride on horseback from the port-town of Nagasaki, the Christian capital of Japan.  Omura itself had been a Christian stronghold in former times.  Indeed, Omura Sumitada, lord of Omura three generations past, had been Japan’s first-baptized Christian domainal lord, and his daughter had herself been baptized as ‘Marina’.  Alas, a string of anti-Christian dictators had, since those days, put an end to the freedom of conscience that some parts of Japan had once known:  in Saint Marina’s day, to profess Christ was death throughout Japan.
Her crimes were legion:  she had manifested charity to the utmost, giving refuge in her home to hunted priests and persecuted Christians at the risk of her life.  Thank God that Saint Marina—like so many Holy Martyrs before her—despised the pains of death:  for in her eyes these were but the merest footsteps in her faultless climb to Heaven to meet her one true Lord. 
Arrested, she was stripped naked and paraded through the whole domain of Omura to shame her; yet, as a virgin self-promised to Christ, she marched with perfect modesty.  She was immolated by ‘slow fire’ on Nishi-zaka, the holy execution-ground overlooking Nagasaki Bay—the sacred soil that had held the crosses of the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan back in February of 1597.  Many holy souls had followed their path to Heaven since that icy winter day thirty-seven years before; Marina of Omura would stand tall among them as a paragon of indomitable faith. 
‘Slow fire’ meant that the firewood beneath her feet had been wetted to prolong her miseries and delay merciful death.  Marina, however, did not amuse her torturers with displays of agony; instead she prayed for her persecutors and her fellow persecuted Christians:  thus is she remembered in Omura as a Christian heroine of remarkable strength.  Superhuman, supernatural strength, humility, and courage, let us say—as befits a faithful child of God.
Saint Marina of Omura, pray for us.

  Luke O'Hara,