On the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Canonization
of the 26 Martyrs of Japan and the Resumption of Missionary Activities
It has been exactly 150 years since the 26 Martyrs of Japan, who were also called “Paul Miki and Companions”, were canonized on June 8, 1862 by Blessed Pope Pius IX (1). They were martyred on February 5, 1597 at Nishizaka, Nagasaki. It also marks the 150th anniversary of the construction of a church in Yokohama on January 12, 1862 and the resumption of missionary activities.
The Resumption of Missionary Activities in Japan
- The Apostolic Vicariate of Japan was created anew and Bp. Forcade was appointed as the first Apostolic Vicar for the resumed mission.
In 1588, during the era of Kirishitan (early Japanese Christians), Pope Sixtus V established the diocese of Funai (currently called Oita) for the first time in Japan. Although Bp. Morales had been appointed as the first bishop, Bp. Martins was the first bishop who actually arrived in Japan in 1596. However, Japan closed itself off from the rest of the world due to the strict anti-Christian policy of the Shogunate.
From the middle of the 19th century, the motivation for sending missionaries anew to Japan arose in France. Pope Pius IX, who was concerned about the mission in Japan, entrusted it to the Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1846. Although Fr. Forcade of the same Society was appointed and sent as the first Apostolic Vicar of Japan, he could not enter Japan due to the Anti-Christian Edicts. Therefore he had to remain installed in Hong Kong (2).
- Yokohama Tenshudo (church) was built and missionary activities were resumed.
As soon as the national isolation policy was practically lifted in 1858, Fr. Girald landed in Yokohama as the chaplain for the French Consulate of Edo (3). In 1862, Yokohama Tenshudo was built and missionary activities were resumed. In addition, the 26 Martyrs of Japan were canonized in Rome by Pope Pius IX on June 8 of the same year.
- The discovery of the Hidden Christians
Oura Catholic Church, the church of 26 Martyrs, was built in Nagasaki on December 29, 1864. The dedication of the church was conducted on February 19, 1865, and Fr. Petitjean, who had completed the construction of the church with Fr. Furet, became the first pastor. One month later, on March 17, a group of hidden Christians of Urakami village visited the church, which was called “Furansudera (French temple)” at that time, and confessed their faith. In this way, the Hidden Christians were discovered. This news was conveyed to the world with profound astonishment as the discovery of the Hidden Christians who had been enduring persecution for 250 years. Fr. Petitjean was ordained Bishop one year later.
The meaning of the 150th anniversary of the resumption of missionary activities
The 26 Martyrs of Japan who were martyred 415 years ago, as well as the Hidden Christians who passed on their faith continuously from generation to generation for 250 years under the Anti-Christian Edicts, witnessed their Christian faith at the risk of their own lives. Even after missionaries had entered Japan again, the faithful were severely persecuted anew and many of them lost their lives for their faith. Although we received the blessing of the beatification of Fr. Peter Kibe and 187 Martyrs three years ago, we must not forget that we have the same blood and faith as theirs while living in the modern world. As Blessed Pope John Paul II said during his visit to Japan, the foundation of the Church in Japan is the blood of martyrs.
I would like to pay close attention to the fact that 150 years ago the Church in France and other countries in the world prayed together for the Church in Japan, a remote island nation in the east. In the same year that missionaries started to enter Japan, Pope Pius IX canonized the 26 Martyrs of Japan, and appealed to the world to pray for Christians in Japan. Responding to this, priests of the Paris Foreign Missions Society and young sisters from the Sisters of the Infant Jesus (Nicolas Barre), the Congregation of the Infant Jesus of Chauffailles, and the Congregation of Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres started to evangelize Japan where the Anti-Christian Edicts had just been lifted and the situation was still severe. Missionaries from the rest of the world followed in their footsteps.
On the occasion of this memorable year, let us, as the Church in Japan, reflect on the amazing history of salvation that God prepared for Japan. We would also like to turn our eyes to and have a sense of gratitude for the Church in the world which has been praying for our country. The Church in Japan has been connected to the Church around the world from the outset.
Pope Benedict XVI will declare the opening of the Year of Faith this October. It is the time for us to confirm the history of the Church in Japan and reflect anew on future evangelization on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the resumption of missionary activities. Inheriting the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (1962~1965) and the National Incentive Convention on Evangelization (NICE in 1987 and 1993), let us make proper preparations for the Year of Faith to promote evangelization anew in Japan.
February 5, 2012
Feast of Paul Miki and Companions
Chairman of the Special Committee for Promoting Canonization and Beatification
Bishop Paul Yoshinao Otsuka
- The activities to promote the canonization of 26 Martyrs were initiated less than 10 years after their martyrdom. In an archive in Pastrana, Spain, there is a document in which Peter Gensuke Kano and 11 other representatives of the faithful in Osaka and Kyoto solicited the Pope for the canonization of the 26 Martyrs of Japan on January 26, 1604. Although the move to promote the canonization of these martyrs was initiated immediately in Europe, it was suspended because information from Japan became unavailable due to the Anti-Christian Edicts, including the deportation of missionaries. The 26 Martyrs of Japan were beatified in 1627 and 1629 afterward in Rome.
- Fr. Forcade was ordained Bishop as Titular Bishop of Samos and Apostolic Vicar of Japan on February 21, 1847 in Hong Kong by Bishop Rizzolati, Apostolic Vicar of Houkouang. He was appointed Apostolic Vicar of Hong Kong in 1848. He became sick in 1849 and returned to France in 1850. After leaving the Paris Foreign Missions Society, he became the bishop of Guadeloupe diocese, Nevers diocese and Aix archdiocese successively. He passed away on September 12, 1885. He attended the canonization ceremony in Rome despite the disapproval of the French government. The Apostolic Vicariate of Japan was divided into Northern and Southern Vicariates in 1876. Bishop Forcade sent Bishop Osouf to the Northern Vicariate after ordaining him Bishop. He also created an opportunity for the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction of Nevers to come to Japan. In addition, he recommended St. Bernadette to become a member of the Congregation.
- In 1858, the Edo Shogunate signed trade agreements with five countries: the United States, the Netherlands, Russia, Britain and France. The Shogunate allowed churches to be built only within foreign settlements.