Sunday, October 22, 2017

How the Catholic Faith went underground for centuries in Japan and was preserved by the lay faithful

Sandro Magister, "The 'Hidden Christians' of Japan ..." (Settimo Cielo, October 17, 2017):
Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his admiration for the “hidden Christians” of Japan, who miraculously reappeared with their faith intact in the second half of the nineteenth century, after two and a half centuries of centuries of ferocious annihilation of Christianity in that country.

But few know the real story of this miracle on the brink of the incredible. It was reconstructed on Thursday, October 12 in a fascinating conference in the aula magna of the Pontifical Gregorian University, by the Japanese Jesuit Shinzo Kawamura, professor of Church history at Sophia University in Tokyo and an author of the most up-to-date studies on the issue.

The complete text of his conference, given at the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Holy See, is reproduced on this other page of Settimo Cielo:

>> Pope Pius IX and Japan. The History of an Oriental Miracle

An extensive extract from this is published below. From reading this - which is a must - it can be gathered that what allowed the intact transmission of the Catholic faith, from generation to generation, among those Christians devoid of priests and entirely cut off from the world was essentially an oral tradition made up of a few decisive truths concerning the sacraments and in the first place confession, according to what was taught by the Council of Trent.

It is “Tridentine” Catholicism, therefore, that nourished the miracle of those “hidden Christians.” With its doctrine of sin and of sacramental forgiveness, anticipated in them by repeated acts of perfect contrition, in the absence of a confessor but also in the prophetic vision that one day he would finally arrive.

These were acts of contrition that followed, at times, the sin of apostasy, which involved publicly trampling on the “Fumie,” the image of Jesus, as they were forced to do by their persecutors in order to prove that they abjured the Christian faith, on pain of death....

by Shinzo Kawamura, S.J.

On January 8, 1867, His Holiness Pope Pius IX dispatched a special message to Fr. Bernard Petitjean of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, who at the time was involved in missionary work in the city of Nagasaki. The purpose of His Holiness was to personally bless an event, which he exuberantly described as a “Miracle of the Orient.”

What he referred to as a “Miracle of the Orient,” was the fact that three years before this message was dispatched, that is, on March 17, 1865, an incident had occurred within one of Japan’s oldest churches, namely the “Oura Tenshudo" of Nagasaki, which is also known as the Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan.

A group of approximately 15 people, descendants of the Hidden Christians of Nagasaki Urakami, visited the Oura Tenshudo that had just been built, and engaged in a dialogue with Fr. Petitjean.

They spoke to Fr. Petitjean saying: “We are of the same faith as you. Where can we find the image of Saint Mary?”.

No sooner had these Hidden Christians ascertained the fact that Catholic priests had entered Japan, more and more of them began to come out of hiding, and their numbers in course of time exceeded ten thousand.

After having duly confirmed the fact that the faith of these priests was the same as that which had been adhered to by their ancestors 400 years ago, these Hidden Christians returned to the Catholic Church.

Three keywords

These Hidden Christians had endured about 250 years of persecution, due to the prohibitions imposed upon them by the Tokugawa government. Even so, they faithfully continued to preserve their faith, and when they eventually felt that the time was appropriate to do so, they rejoined the Catholic Church. This was indeed a miracle, but my question is, what was it that made this miracle possible?

I now wish to present three keywords that I consider most vital, with regard to the possibility of this Oriental Miracle....
Kawamura goes on to discuss in detail the "three keywords" to understanding the survival of the underground faith in Japan. Essentially, they come down to (1) lay communities that had been organized for the governance of the Catholic faithful in diverse territorial regions of the country since the time of St. Francis Xavier's mission in Japan; (2) the prophecy of a martyred catechist that after seven generations, black ships would arrive and Catholic "confessors" with the authority to forgive sins would return to Japan; and (3) hope of forgiveness in the absence of sacramental Confession through the Tridentine provision that "reconciliation between the individual and God can be attained by true contrition."

In these far-from-ideal conditions, how these Japanese "hidden Christians" were able to preserve and sustain their faith at all is indeed an "Oriental Miracle."

[Hat tip to JM]

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