Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Way of 26 Crosses

'China Town', Nagasaki
The 13th century Breton knight and adventurer Fulkes de Breaute is rather an obscure figure, but he crops up in unexpected places. A favourite of King John (the 'Bad'), he was made sheriff of several midlands castles (though not Nottingham), and his name is recalled in the name Vauxhall ('Fulkes Hall') on the south bank of the Thames. Funnily enough, it was at Vauxhall station that 19th century visitors from Russia asked "Where is this?"; "Vauxhall" came the reply, for which reason the word for train station in Russian is "Vokzal" to this day!

Kyoto. "Let us dicover the significance of birth and the joy of living"
Sort of similarly, though in fact he takes centre stage in late 16th century Japanese history, last week there was information outside one of the marvellous temples here in Kyoto referring to one Toyotomi Hideyoshi, aka 'Taikosane'. It was the second time i'd come across him; he ordered the Imjinwaeran invasion of Korea in 1592, about which a mini museum in Busan (Korea) tells the terrible story. Then, in "historic, romantic and exotic" Nagasaki, which i reached after a mixture of walking and not walking at the weekend, there he was again in the excellent little Jesuit museum dedicated to the 26 Japanese Martyrs. The first thing one sees there is a beautiful (17th century?) statue of St. Francis Xavier, wearing the traditional garb of a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela, with scallop shells around his shoulders. He seems to have been a real 'St. Patrick' of the Far East and Japan, converting hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in the first half of the 16th century. Among them were numerous members of the feudal aristocracy, which by the way is another thing Japan has in common with Britain - its own tradition of "chivalry", where the knights of course were known as "Samurais". Hideyoshi however specifically ordered many of the Christian warriors to take part in the invasion of Korea. Then in October 1596 a Spanish galleon, the San Felipe, was shipwrecked off Japan on its way to Mexico. When the crew resisted his attempt to confiscate this vessel, Hideyoshi used it as a pretext to condemn 26 Kyoto Christians, men and boys, 6 foreigners and 20 Japanese, to death by crucifixion in Nagasaki. The most famous of these is St. Paul Miki, a native Japanese Jesuit who would soon have been ordained a priest. From what i could gather they each had an ear cut off before being made to walk 1000 kilometres in January 1597, being martyred on February 6th. The Franciscan St. Felipe de Jesus OFM was able to joke on the way, that "the San Felipe was shipwrecked so that Br. Felipe could go to heaven".
Church of Our Lady, Nagasaki

Soon afterwards Catholicism was banned for 250 years (sound familiar? - oh alright, the Japanese banned ALL Christianity), and there were sporadic further persecutions, but remarkably, when priests returned to Nagasaki in the late 19th century, a group of Christians whose faith had been hidden for generations came and presented themselves.

In the Cathedral in Fukuoka i met a young Japanese guy who has not (yet) become a Christian, but who has walked to Santiago more than once, and visited Marian shrines including Fatima and Medugorje. He kindly agreed to look after my bulky sleeping bag while i went to Nagasaki, and then wouldn't let me pay anything towards coffees and a great lunch when i came back, yesterday. Living in London from 2003-4, he had his picture taken with Arsene Wenger, who was coach of the Japanese football team before moving to Woolwich Arsenal. Not least as yesterday was St. James's day, patron of pilgrims, i was glad to be able to give him the excellent 'Dazer' dog deterrent, which i'd used successfully on a number of occasions.

There was sumo wrestling on the TV in the bus station in Nagasaki, including at least two European/American gentlemen, complete with amazing hair-cuts and generous beer-guts. Thank goodness there isn't a womens' version, (though frankly it wouldn't look much more ridiculous than womens' boxing or rugby). This however brings me to a much more serious matter. Baseball is a great game, but cricket, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, is at least as good. Yet, are cricket's governing bodies awake to this fact? China is the country that springs to mind, which could easily follow Korea and Japan down the "glorified rounders" route...

Here is St. Patrick's Breastplate;

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, and in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Okage sama de!

This title is the nearest Japanese equivalent, so i'm told, to the Arabic expression 'Al hamdu li laah!', or 'Praise the Lord' in English. Actually though it is often used in answer to queries after one's health - in English we might say "thanks for asking"; it is a more humble way of saying that one is 'fine'. Originally it contains a meaning of 'shade', as if one is expressing thanks for being under the shade of God's hand.

'A-Bomb Dome', preserved for posterity, Hiroshima
Many people will know that it is customary to bow when meeting people here (as also in Korea), but i had never previously seen that this, alongside things like the Japanese readiness to apologise and other firmly established norms of 'politeness', might be yet another similarity (at least in theory!) to Britain. The others are much more obvious, like being an island (or islands) off the coast of a great continent, and driving on the left - and even the weather was grey and showery on the day i arrived. People here also love football; the Japanese women's team have just become world champions, and make no mistake, the guys here aspire to supplant countries like England in the men's version too. But my thoughts have been on a different ball game - baseball. Knowing that i had an appointment with a friend in Kobe, on Thursday evening i took a train to big and bustling (yes, you read that right) Hiroshima, where a huge crowd of 'Carp' fans were emerging from their great stadium near the station. The "A-Bomb Dome" is one ruin which has been preserved, and is a World Heritage site, and one must also devote plenty of time to the Peace Memorial Museum. The individual accounts, especially, of what happened on the 6th of August 1945, moved me to tears, and other memorable exhibits include a watch which has stopped at 8.15, when the tranquility of a beautiful morning was shattered so brutally.

Kobe, Japan
Then i came, on a Bullet train no less, to Kobe, where one might think of the station as a sort of 'Disneyland' for trainspotters. They have various kinds of 'Racing' locomotive here, so that you almost expect the driver to emerge wearing a helmet, and overalls plastered with company logos, before stepping onto a podium and firing champagne corks across the platform. On Sunday i was treated to such wonderful hospitality by my friend, who i'd met on the last day of my visit to Israel last year! And yesterday (though a simple appointment in Osaka proved too much for me to keep, and we missed the first half), it was still marvellous to see the Osaka Buffaloes defeat visitors from Chibo - and we did see a home run.

This morning i've arrived by bus in the far west again, in Fukuoka, hoping to walk at least some of the way to the most important centre of Christianity in Japan, which is Nagasaki.

A Prayer for England

O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England, thy dowry, and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee.

By thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our hope, was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more.

Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the cross, O Sorrowful Mother. Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold, they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son.

Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith, fruitful in good works, we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee in our heavenly home.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Pacific Details

Tree frog
Last Thursday, on the slightly crafty bus i took heading South East from Seoul to Gyeongju, the TV news was dominated by the announcement that Peongchang (South Korea), had been chosen to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. This points up something that few people would be likely to know about Korea; it is 70% mountainous. Furthermore, though some ancient forest has been lost, virtually all the elevations i saw (mostly not very high) were covered in trees. In terms of wildlife, given that summers get so hot, i was surprised not to see any reptiles whatsoever, but saw tree frogs, chipmunks, white herons and great big blue-black butterflies the size of sparrows. There was also a 'flock' of woodpeckers and a squadron of dragonflies - Korea is one of the few places where one can still see them flying in formation (only joking about that bit).

Bulguksa Temple complex, Gyeongju
Gyeongju is a 'must' for tourists, being the ancient capital of the 'Silla' kingdom which emerged in around the 6th century. The adjacent Bulguksa temple complex is a fairly recent though meticulous restoration; and Seokguram grotto is an extraordinary, original 8th century Buddha guarded by suitably fierce looking warriors in a very sophisticated shrine (there's a graphic in the museum in Seoul which shows how it was built).

At the carpark there i put a coin in a telescope and caught my first sight of the Pacific Ocean. Setting off down a winding road, the idea was to walk about 150km to the ferry terminal at Busan, but heavy rain caused delays and then i couldn't find a pedestrian-friendly way out of Ulsan. I must mention however that on Sunday evening a very kind priest there gave me a delicious supper and, after Mass, an envelope containing $100!! I then spent the night on the sofa...which someone had abandoned in a derelict plot of land next to a scrapyard down the road - actually Fr. Philipo would surely have offered me somewhere to stay if he'd understood my situation, but in any case it was good to do more walking in the evening cool.

One more thing i must mention about Koreans - they are outstanding singers. I was already aware of this, having happened to attend a Korean language Mass at Lourdes some years ago. In contrast to the often bleak picture at home (at least in Catholic Churches - though obviously things are better in Wales), Koreans really enjoy singing, and i scarcely heard a duff note in the fortnight i was there.

This morning i've arrived in Shimonoseki, having crossed the East Sea to Japan.

Here is the Prayer to Our Lady of Namyang;

Dear Holy Mother of Namyang
Who opens her arms of mercy with a smile!
We behold your intimacy of beauteous love
And deep intimacy with the Infant Jesus.
You are the Virgin Mother, born of Immaculate Conception
And holy blessings, who bore and nurtured our Lord Jesus.
Holy Mother of God, we praise you who are also our mother.
Dear Holy Mother of Namyang,
The very sight of the Infant Jesus who hangs on to your garment
Tells us to stay near you and rely on your care and mercy.
Do not forsake us when we cling to you for mercy,
With only our trust and love, and the desire to belong to you;
And therefore let us stay in your house.
Our powerful Advocate Mother who is always with the Lord,
Praying for our cause, to you we entrust our prayer
Confident of your intercession.
Give us your merciful and caring glance
And bless us, our families and our nation. Amen.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Korean Walk

Gdansk, on the Baltic Coast of Poland, can claim the distinction of being the place where the Second World War started, and where the Cold War ended. Or can it? True, notwithstanding the odd 'cold snap' in relations between Russia and western countries, the days of Superpower confrontation are gone. But try telling the people of the Korean peninsular that the Cold War is over. Walking south from the centre of Seoul on Saturday i found my way blocked by more than one "U.S. military installation", not marked on tourist maps. At the free and excellent (not least as they've gone to the trouble of providing so much English translation) National Museum of Korea one can learn that the seventh to tenth centuries were a golden age of Korean civilisation; a time when Britons more or less still lived in caves. But there's scant coverage of Korean history after about 1700, and the 20th century is deemed too-hot-a-political-potato to even mention! By virtue of my earlier route on this pilgrimage, i'm particularly struck by the parallel in the histories of Korea (North and South) and Germany (East and West). Maybe this could be a "way in" to looking at the 20th century?
Fortress at Hwaseong, South Korea

Left: Our Lady of Vladimir. Right: Aerial view of the Shrine of Our Lady, Namyang
Finding places to sleep under a bridge and below the walls of a splendid 18th century fortress, yesterday i made my way at last to Namyang, the National Shrine of Our Lady in Korea, a place dedicated to prayer for peace and reconciliation. On a site where Korean Christians were martyred in the 19th century, the land was acquired piecemeal by the parish priest, and a really beautiful 'Rosary Way', through immaculately tended gardens, has been laid out around a sort of bowl created by fairly steep surrounding hills. Great big granite spheres represent each bead of the Rosary. An amazing thing is that from the air the Shrine bears an extraordinary resemblance to a famous Icon called Our Lady of Vladimir, also known as Our Lady of Tenderness - a little reproduction of which Matt Martin gave me before setting off! The priest who celebrated Mass today was delighted when i gave it to him (hope that's OK with you Matt - he's given me a marvellous picture of Our Lady of Namyang which i hope to give to you), and soon after i was enjoying a delicious free lunch and a free lift back here, to Seoul. Some readers might be a bit sceptical of course, but there it is. When the Pope arrived last year there was an outstanding cartoon in the Sunday Telegraph, of a man saying to his wife over breakfast; "The face of Richard Dawkins has appeared on my piece of toast!"

The best way to see Lake Baikal...
"A Walk to a Lake on the Way to a Church". That Lake was Baikal, which it was my tremendous privilege to see, in fulfilment of a long-cherished dream, last week. The 'Pearl of Siberia', it contains around 20% or more of the world's fresh water, having a surface area the size of Denmark and being unimaginably deep. On an excursion i caught a glimpse of a "Nerpa", the totemic fresh-water seal which is among a host of endemic species of flora and fauna. In conversation with a young Russian couple on board our boat i learnt that "Our president came here" - "Medvedev?", i asked; "No, the other one, what's his name, Putin..." I know it's only anecdotal, but that's not the sort of conversation you'd expect to have in a totalitarian state.
Siberian sparrow

The 'Hail Holy Queen' (Salve Regina) is often credited to Blessed Hermann of Reichenau, an 11th century Benedictine monk and brilliant scholar as well as composer, who spent much of his life in the Abbey of Reichenau, an island in Lake Constance;

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to Thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
R. that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.