Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 30, 2009
Sulpicians celebrate 75th anniversary in Japan
Despite horrific persecution, Japanese Catholics sustained their faith, now number 509,000
Fr. Jacques D'Arcy, Canada's provincial superior of the Priests of St. Sulpice, left, and Fr. Shayne Craig journeyed to Japan for the opening of a new seminary at Fukuoka.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
ST. ALBERT – Catholicism has come a long way in Japan, from the 250 years when Catholics were persecuted for their faith, to the recent celebration of a new seminary.
Sulpician Father Shayne Craig, rector of St. Joseph Seminary, was in Japan from Feb. 1-13 to mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first Sulpician priests in Japan.
The 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Seminary of St. Sulpice at Fukuoka — and also its closure — were celebrated Feb. 2. A total of 268 priests were formed in this seminary during the past 60 years.
JAPAN CATHOLIC SEMINARY
St. Sulpice will become one of two campuses of the newly-created Japan Catholic Seminary, an amalgamation of the Tokyo Catholic Seminary and the Seminary of St. Sulpice at Fukuoka.
The seminarians will undertake their philosophy studies at the Tokyo campus, and go on to study theology in Fukuoka.
Sulpician Father Joseph Tsuyomi Makiyama, and current rector of the seminary in Fukuoka, will become rector of the new national seminary. The priests of St. Sulpice will continue their collaboration in the formation of future priests, serving on both campuses. The new seminary will be under the direction of the National Episcopal Conference of Japan.
Japan has a fascinating history of persecution and determined faith. Being Catholic was illegal for almost a quarter century, punishable by death. Urakami and Nagasaki were Christian villages. Church members practised their faith underground, without priests, during that time.
“The Catholic Christian faith there is quite profound, especially in the south. I’d heard that before, but I’d never really understood why,” admitted Craig. “A lot of it has to do with the long period of persecution. From 1614 to 1859, for about 250 years, Japan was closed to the rest of the world.”
After the first missionaries, St. Francis Xavier and the Jesuits, evangelized in Japan, the country closed its doors to all foreigners, including foreign priests. This began a period of virulent persecution and the deaths of many priests and Catholics.
The faith was passed on, despite the watchful gendarmerie. To prove that one was not Catholic, he or she would have to go to a Shinto or Buddhist temple and stomp on sacred images of Jesus and Mary.
“This was happening in the 1800s, which is unbelievable. We think of persecution like that in the early Church, but not now,” said Craig.
Despite the murder and exile of Catholic priests and the persecution of those who practised the faith, Catholicism continued in secrecy in Japan.
“For 250 years, people guarded the faith, preserved the faith, one generation to the next. They had different people appointed in the community. One would act as the catechist. One would act as the register keeper. Another would actually perform the ceremonies, the Baptisms and whatnot.
“They kept a liturgical calendar of all the saints’ feasts days and would have prayers on those days. They passed on prayers. They passed on hymns. All of this was hidden. They couldn’t keep books or anything that gave a sign of their faith,” he explained.
France and Japan signed a trade treaty in 1859, which resulted in the opening of the port of Nagasaki. The Oura Cathedral was built in 1865 to serve visiting foreigners. Yet Christianity was still forbidden. The consequence was a new persecution, from 1868 to 1873, known as Yonban-Kuzure. A total of 613 Catholics were martyred and 3,394 exiled to 22 locations across Japan. In 1873, the Meiji government responded to international public opinion and restored religious freedom to the nation.
At 11:02 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1945, the atomic bomb exploded. The entire Urakami Valley became an inferno. Of Urakami’s 12,000 parishioners, 8,500 were dead.
Today, there are around 509,000 Catholics in Japan, less than half a per cent of the total population. There are 16 dioceses, with 1,589 priests and 848 parishes.
“I was so impressed by this deep faith that had suffered and remained faithful for so long,” said Craig.
Japanese Catholics are circumspect, and sometimes reluctant to share their faith with others.
“That notion of being a hidden Christian is profoundly inscribed, especially in Catholics where the faith is the deepest in some ways. Being public and going out and proclaiming the Gospel overtly is the antithesis of what they have learned for centuries, so it’s a big struggle for them.”