History of Asian Missions

A bimonthly missionary letter to foster prayers for Asia
No. 1 --- December 1996

I - History of the Asian Missions - The "Christian Era" in Japan (1549-1638)

St Francis Xavier (Feastday December 3)

News of "Our" Missions.

For the Missions of Asia: One Million Hail Marys Daily

"Go and teach all nations" (Mt. 28,20) "Pray without ceasing." (Lk 18,1)

The purpose of this simple missionary letter is first and foremost to generate an on-going flow of prayers for this Asian continent soaked with the blood of martyrs yet peopled to this day with a great majority of non-Catholics.  In fact, we would like to obtain in the near future a daily 1 million Aves for Asia.  It is an act of faith in the all-powerful aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all the graces, including the graces of conversion of every single soul in Asia.

We intend to promote this missionary prayer by informing our readers of the history of the Catholic Missions in these various and colorful countries, by recalling the life and writings of some famous missionaries who planted the seeds of truth and grace and/or who watered it by their blood.  Finally, since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, we wish to relate some more contemporary missionary work being done in continuity with the work done in the past.

    "The harvest is great but the labourers are few.  Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he may send some labourers in his harvest."

The Fathers of Our Lady of Victories 
I - History of the Asian Missions The "Christian Era" in Japan (1549-1638)

    Next February 5, 1997 will be the 4th centenary of the martyrs of Nagasaki, Japan.  On this occasion, let us glance at the arrival of the Catholic Faith in that country.

    Two great periods divide that era: from the arrival of St. Francis of Xavier on August 15, 1549 to the edict of general persecution of 1614, and then from 1614 to the definitive "closure" of Japan in 1638.

    At the beginning, the Jesuits are alone but in 1592, the arrival of missionaries from other religious orders coming from the Philippines make them share the administration of the Mission.

    St. Francis Xavier spent just about 2 years in the Japanese soil, making numerous openings for divine grace.  When he left in November 1551, a little thousand faithful had received the gift of faith, at their head was his Spanish companion, Fr. Cosme de Torres, helped by a brother fluent in Japanese.  The minute nucleus of Christians, in the South of Kyushu did not grow due to the hostility of the daimyo.  In the North of the island, in Bungo, Xavier had indeed got permission to preach and baptise freely, however, he doesnít seem to have made any neophytes, by lack of interpreter.  It is in Yamaguchi on the other side of the strait on the greater island that the apostolate of Fr. Torres and his brother gave some fruits.  All seemed to collapse though during the civil wars.  But the situation eventually settled itself.

    The golden age of Japanese Christianity, the period of quick conquests and unlimited hopes, expands from 1551 when Xavier left until 1587.  The Southern churches, Yamaguchi, Bungo, Hizen very soon reached a high degree of prosperity.  In 1563, the first daimyo is baptised.  He would be followed by many others, some very influential in the following years.

    During that time, further North, in Kyoto, where Fr. Vilela had settled in 1559, as well as in the central provinces, the success is not less spectacular.  Bonzes, samurai, daimyo, even Kuge are converted.  If political troubles interrupted the propaganda between 1564 and 1568, it continued afterwards with Oda Nobunaga in power who openly took the Christians under his wings.  In 1577 the fathers erected in Kyoto the splendid church of the Assumption.  Nobunaga allowed another church with a school for young noble men in Azuchi, on the shore of lake Biwa.

    After the death of Nobunaga and the fire of Azuchi (1582), the Jesuits settled in Osaka, near the master of Japan Toyotomi Hideyoshi and found the same favour with him.  There too, famous conversions took place especially that of Konishi Yukinaga, the grand Admiral of Hideyoshi and that of Kuroda Yoshitaka, the general of his cavalry.

    What were the causes of these achievements?  There were many Catholic Missionaries arrived at the right moment, they profited of the confusion of souls, of the decadence of Buddhism and of the contempt in which its leaders was kept.  In contrast, the missionaries edify by their disinterestedness, their morals, by the absolute conformity between their life and their teaching.  People ran to them first out of burning curiosity but this soon changed into real enthusiasm for these strangers who preached the contempt of riches, and didnít care to acquire any, who preached humility and answered to insults with kindness, who preached abstinence and did not get drunk, who preached purity and did not live with women.  As they practised celibacy and organised occasionally pompous ceremonies, they did not shock the traditional concept Japanese had of the priest and of worship.  Moreover, members of the same Order, united not only by the same faith but by the same discipline, guided by the example and advices left by St. Francis Xavier, they tried to adapt to the native customs whenever possible and were extremely prudent never to hurt the susceptibilities, so easily enflamed of this people proud and jealous of its independence.

    Christianity also found in the political state of the country favorable circumstances for its free development.  The central power of the Mikado being only a shadow, the daimyo, local feudal lords, as the absolute master of his domains.  Thus, Christian propaganda did not risk a conflict with a higher power.  The daimyo could accept or prescribe in all freedom the Christian religion with no one to contradict them.  Moreover, by embracing this religion, they gave themselves greater independence.  Through the missionaries, they could enter in relation with the heads of foreign states, they could send and receive embassies.  That also explains why Christianity obtained then so much success among the territorial nobility of which the example had obviously a strong influence on the samurai of every rank and on the people.  Thus, the conversion of daimyo were the most characteristic trait of the history of Japanese Christianity.

    While in Central Japan, the number of Christians did not grow very much between 1570-1579, there were massive conversions in the Kyushu.  In the state of Omura, the daimyo Sumitada baptised in 1563 had only 5,600 Christian subjects.  In 1571, threatened by a local rebellion, he launched against the bonzes; in 1575, there were no more non-Christians in his possessions.

    Through frequent and moving alternatives of success and failure, the regions of the Kyushu seedbed of the new religion, finally saw another strong movement of conversions crowned by the baptism of St. Francis Xavierís old friend Otomo of Bungo (28 Aug. 1578).

Next issue: The Japanese Martyrs of 1597, 1617-32, 1633-1637
(From: Histoire Universelle de Mission Catholiques, vol. 1, Monaco, 1957)

St Francis Xavier (Feastday December 3)

    And since the wind for taking us back to Canton was blowing against the prow and was assisting us at the poop for going to Japan, the captain and his crew, though unwillingly, were forced to sail for Japan.  Neither the demon nor his minions could block our passage; and on the feast of our Lady in August 1549, God thus brought us to these lands which we had so ardently desired to reach.  And since we could find no other harbor in Japan, we sailed to Kagoshima, the land of Paul of the Holy Faith, where we were received with great love by all, both by his relatives and by those who were not.

    I have frequently spoken with some of the most learned of these bonzes, especially with one who is highly esteemed by all in these regions for his learning, his life, and the office which he holds, and also for his advanced age, since he is some eighty years old.  He is called Ninjitsu which means :heart of truth" in the language of Japan.  He is like a bishop among them; and if his person was in keeping with his name, he would be blessed.  In the many conversations which I have had with him, I have found him hesitant and unable to decide if our soul is immortal, or if it dies together with the body; at times he has told me that it is, and at other times that it is not.  I am afraid that it is the same with the other scholars.  This Ninjitsu is an amazingly good friend of mine.  All, both laymen and bonzes, are delighted with us; and they are greatly astonished to see that we have come from lands so far away as Portugal is from Japan, more than six thousand leagues, for the sole purpose of speaking about the things of God and on how people are to save their souls by believing in Jesus Christ, telling them that our coming to these lands is something that has been commanded by God.

    I am letting you know one thing for which you should all give great thanks to God our Lord, namely, that this island of Japan is well disposed for there being a great increase of our holy faith on it; and, if we knew how to speak the language, I have no doubt in believing that many would become Christians.  May it please God our Lord that we soon learn it, since we have already begun to have some experience of it; and forty days after we began to learn it, we are explaining the Ten Commandments.

    I am giving you such a detailed account in order that you may all give thanks to God our Lord that regions have been discovered in which your holy desires can be employed and fulfilled, and also so that you may acquire many virtues and desires to endure many labors for the service of Christ our Redeemer and Lord, and may always remember that God is more pleased by a good will filled with humility, through which men offer themselves to him, making an oblation of their lives solely for his love and glory, than he prizes and esteems the services that are rendered unto him, no matter how many these may be.

    Believe me that those of you who will come to these regions will be well tried for all that you are worth; and no matter how much diligence you may use in acquiring and obtaining many virtues, know for sure that they will not be excessive.  I am not telling you these things to make you think that it is difficult to serve God and that the Lordís yoke is not sweet and light; for, if men disposed themselves to seek God by taking and embracing the necessary means for this, they would find so much sweetness and consolation in serving him that all repugnance which they feel in conquering themselves would be very easily overcome if they knew how much pleasure and contentment of spirit they lose by not exerting themselves in their temptations, which as a rule prevent the weak from enjoying so great a boon as is a knowledge of the supreme goodness of God and a rest from the toils of this life, since to live in it without enjoying God is not a life but a continuous death.

    When Paul went to speak with the duke, who lives five leagues from Kagoshima, he took with him a very devout picture of our Lady which we had brought with us.  The duke was marvelously pleased when he saw it; he knelt down before the image of Christ our Lord and of our Lady, and he adored it with great respect and reverence.  He then ordered all those who were with him to do the same; after this they showed it to the dukeís mother, who was amazed and showed her own great pleasure in seeing it.  A few days after Paul returned from there to us in Kagoshima, the mother of the duke sent a nobleman to order another picture like it to be made, if this were possible; but since there were no materials for this in the land, it was made.  This lady sent a request that we send her in writing what the Christians believe.  Paul thus spent several days in doing this, and he wrote many things about our faith in her language.

    May it please God our Lord to grant us a knowledge of the language so that we can speak to them of the things of God, for we shall then, with his grace, favor, and assistance, produce much fruit.  We are now like so many statues among them, since they speak and talk much about us, while we, not understanding their language, are mute.  We are now learning the language like little children, and may it please God that we may imitate them in their simplicity and purity of mind.  We are forced to employ the means and to dispose ourselves to be like them, both in learning the language and in imitating the simplicity of small and innocent children.

    The reason why God has granted us the very great and signal grace of bringing us to these pagan regions is so that we do not neglect ourselves, fort his land is filled with idolatries and enemies of Christ and we have nothing in which we can hope and trust except in God, since we have here no relatives, or friends, or acquaintances, nor is there any Christian piety, but all are enemies of him who created the heavens and the earth.  We are therefore compelled to place all our faith, hope, and confidence in Christ our Lord, and not in any living creature, since all, because of their unbelief, are enemies of God.  In other regions where our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord is known, creatures are wont to be a reason for neglecting God and an impediment to his service; for example, a love of father, mother, relatives, friends, and acquaintances, and a love of oneís own country, and having what is needed in sickness and in health, the possession of temporal goods or spiritual friends who help with oneís physical needs; but what compels us more than anything else to place our hope in God is the lack of persons to help us in spirit.  Here in a foreign land where God is unknown, he grants us the great grace that creatures help and compel in his divine goodness, for they have no love at all for God and Christian piety.

Letters and Instructions of Francis Xavier, St. Louis, Missouri, 1992, Letter # 90, November 5, 1549.

News of "Our" Missions.

    On October 27 last, at the Church of Our Lady of Victories, in Manila, a beautiful procession of the Blessed Sacrament was held, attended by over 800 faithful.  Seven school buses had been hired to provide transport to nearly 400 students and friends from a National High School, 2 hours journey away.  It was the first exposure of these young boys and girls to the beauties of the Traditional Mass with its Gregorian chant and sacredness.

    In the early days of October, the 92 year old grandmother of a faithful underwent an operation for cancer.  She was in great pain, nevertheless since she had re-discovered in her last years, the beauty of the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass, she understood the need to suffer with Christ.  Just before the operation she said: "Please remove the pain, but not all of it!"  Her grandson querying on the meaning of her words asked her: "Do you want to keep some pain to suffer with Jesus?"  She nodded her head affirmatively......

For the Missions of Asia: One Million Hail Marys Daily

    As An act of faith in the all powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces, and as a token of missionary charity towards the very great number of souls in Asia, 

    I wish to pledge ____ decades of the Rosary everyday  "For the Missions of Asia"

    I understand that I need not necessarily add extra prayers but that simply need to add that intention "For the Missions of Asia" to my usual daily prayers. 
Name: _____________________________________________ 
Send this form (or a copy) toFather Superior, Our Lady of Victories, 2 Canon Road, New Manila, Quezon City 1112, Philippines. 
The progress of this ongoing spiritual bouquet will be related in the future issues of the Missionary Letter.  As of May 1, 1998, around 250,000 Hail Marys are being said daily for this intention.  This letter will be sent free of charge to all those who pledge to pray "For the Missions of Asia".  (Those who attend Asian Mass centers can get their copy there.)

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