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Monday, 1 October 2012


St Francis Xavier: Pilgrim
These details and more could be found in the excellent little Jesuit museum where i spent about an hour. At the entrance is a delightful 17th century statue of the wonderful Spanish Jesuit, St. Francis Xavier, in the traditional garb of a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela. He seems to have been a real ‘St. Patrick’ of East Asia and Japan, converting thousands of people by the mid 16th century. When the work of his missionary successors had taken effect, Nagasaki became known as the “Rome of Japan”, with ten churches, and divided into eight parishes. But as we have already seen, Japanese Christianity had enemies in high places. Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea in 1592 may well have been based on a calculation that the growing might of Kyushu’s Christian Samurai had to be channelled into an overseas enterprise, to stop them projecting their power domestically; the museum makes clear that Christians made up a considerable part of the invasion force. Be that as it may, the martyrdoms in the wake of the San Felipe incident of 1597 marked only the beginning of serious persecution for the faithful in Japan. From 1614 until 1873[1] the government enforced a total ban on all European missionaries; Christians who failed to comply with such ritual renunciations as trampling on an icon of Our Lady could be forced into exile or put to death. Yet in spite of this, when missionaries finally returned and had finished building Nagasaki’s Oura Church in 1865, a group of so-called Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”) from a nearby village came and presented themselves to a French priest, Fr Bernard Petitjean. He discovered, in what Pope Pius IX hailed as “the miracle of the Orient”, that the rite of baptism, and elements of the liturgical calendar, had been passed secretly from generation to generation by many thousands of such Christians since the early 17th century.

    Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Museum is no less affecting than its counterpart in Hiroshima. Appropriately, there is a strongly Catholic Christian dimension to the story here, not least as the device exploded almost directly above St Mary’s Urakami Cathedral, the largest cathedral in East Asia at the time. It had taken 30 years to build, at tremendous cost to the impoverished local Christian community, descendants of the long-suffering Kakure Kirishitan. The museum contains a number of items retrieved from the cathedral ruins, as well as a photograph of a statue of St Agnes of Rome[2], which is on display at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Among the Hibakusha (survivors) of Nagasaki was a Catholic convert, Dr Takashi Nagai, who died of Leukemia in 1951. The following is taken from Funeral Address for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb, in his book, ‘The Bells of Nagasaki’:
 
“Is there not a profound relationship between the destruction of Nagasaki and the end of the war? Nagasaki, the only holy place in all Japan—was it not chosen as a victim, a pure lamb, to be slaughtered and burned on the altar of sacrifice to expiate the sins committed by humanity in the Second World War?”
 
Dr Nagai happened also to be an acquaintance in the 1930s of St Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish martyr of Auschwitz. A Franciscan friary founded by him near Nagasaki was shielded from the blast by the mountain on which it was built, and retains a prominent place in the Japanese Church. Blessed John Paul II called St Maximilian, “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”. May St Faustina Kowalska, Apostle of the Divine Mercy, canonised by Bl John Paul II as the first saint of the new millennium, and born within a few miles of her compatriots in southern Poland, be the patron saint of ours.



[1] Thus almost concurrent with the 250 year prohibition on the Catholic faith in Britain.
[2] Spiritual forerunner of St Maria Goretti, St Agnes was martyred at the age of 12 or 13 for her refusal to surrender to the depredations of pagan child rapists in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian.

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