"Wittgenstein famously concluded his Tractatus with an injunction: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." My relationship to Endo's Silence is of that order: I'm hesitant to even try to speak about how this story affected me. It was my Lenten reading for 2011, and I'm seriously considering making it an annual discipline."
One book that might be on my Top Ten ever-read list is Silence, by Shusaku Endo. It's the story of a 17th-century Portuguese priest in Japan when Japanese persecution of Christians was horrific. I read this book back in the 1980s. Some of the scenes are forever imprinted in my mind.
The persecutions almost totally eliminated Christianity in Japan. Today, Christianity still struggles to gain a hold.
A few years ago there was a service that attracted thousands, honoring Japan's Christian martyrs.
"Brought to Japan in 1549 by Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary active across Asia, Christianity was banned by feudal lords fearful that foreign influence would undermine their power.
A period of persecution followed, forcing the faithful to choose between martyrdom or hiding their beliefs. At least 5,500 Christians are believed to have been killed for their faith in Japan.
Others practiced their rites in secret and blended them with local beliefs, a hybrid faith that has trickled down to the present day in remote parts of southern Japan.
Less than 1 percent of Japanese are Christians and fewer than 500,000 are Catholic. Prime Minister Taro Aso is the first Catholic to become premier but he rarely refers to his religion in public and was not invited to the ceremony.
Many Japanese take a mix-and-match approach to religion, often favoring Christian-style weddings, Shinto blessings for children and Buddhist funerals.
Monday's beatification is the culmination of three decades of efforts by Japanese Catholics to recognize more of their own martyrs. The destruction of records in Japan meant researchers had to travel overseas to study letters sent home by missionaries.
Some of those beatified on Monday were crucified then burned to death, while others were beheaded or drowned. The martyrs ranged in age from one to 80. Four were priests but most were ordinary Catholics, many of whose names are still unknown."
Endo's description of how these missionaries confessed Christ in the face of such persecutions is unforgettable.