Celebrations in Nagasaki began today to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the “Hidden Christians of Japan.” Pope Francis appointed Filipino Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato, will serve as his Special Envoy at the anniversary event which will last until March 17th.
The Hidden Christians, also known as Kakure Kirishitan, converted to Christianity in the 16th century. After the Tokugawa shogunate, the feudal military government at the time, banned Catholicism in 1614, many were martyred while others remained hidden, passing on the faith to their children for over two centuries.
Biblical phrases, prayers and devotions were passed on in secret even while being hunted by the government. The Tokugawa shogunate would reveal the identity of Hidden Christians by using the practice of Fumi-e, in which suspected Christians were told to stomp on pictures of Jesus and Mary. Those who refused or hesitated were sent to Nagasaki where they were tortured and even martyred if they refused to renounce their faith.
250 years after the persecution ended, missionaries who returned were surprised to discover a community of Japanese Christians who survived and still held on to their faith.
During his General Audience on January 14th, 2014, Pope Francis expressed his admiration for those Japanese Christians who kept their faith alive despite the risk of death.
“They maintained, though in secret, a strong community spirit, because Baptism made them become one body in Christ: they were isolated and hidden, but always members of the People of God, members of the Church. We can learn so much from this story!” he said.
In a letter sent to the Filipino prelate, the Pope asked that Cardinal Quevedo celebrate the anniversary remembering those who gave their lives, in order to renew in the faithful “the strength, zeal and love for the Church.” Among those he recalled were Blessed Peter Kibe, a Japanese Jesuit who along with 187 companions were martyred in Nagasaki.
Their example, he said, serves to project “the enthusiasm of faith in daily life.”