THE MISSIONS OF ASIA
A bimonthly missionary letter to foster prayers for Asia
No. 1 --- December 1996
- History of the Asian Missions - The "Christian Era" in Japan
St Francis Xavier (Feastday December 3)
News of "Our" Missions.
For the Missions of Asia:
One Million Hail Marys Daily
and teach all nations" (Mt. 28,20) "Pray without ceasing." (Lk
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.
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 harvest is great but the labourers are few. Pray to
the Lord of the harvest that he may send some labourers in his
Fathers of Our Lady of Victories
- 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
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
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
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).
issue: The Japanese Martyrs of 1597, 1617-32, 1633-1637
(From: Histoire Universelle de Mission Catholiques, vol.
1, Monaco, 1957)
Francis Xavier (Feastday
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.
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......