Though missionaries were unable to enter Japan, the Roman Catholic Church could not forget the land where its efforts had once been crowned with so great success, and where so many martyrs had consecrated the soil by their blood. Many were the prayers that the country which had been the scene of such triumphs and such sufferings might again be opened to the heralds of the Cross. There were indications that some knowledge of Christianity yet remained among the people. In 1820, some Japanese came to Batavia for the purpose of purchasing Christian books.
In 1826, the Christians of Korea, who were likewise obliged to hide themselves from bitter persecution, learned that the Japanese Shogun had requested their King to send back to him six men, believers in Christianity, who had escaped in a boat to Korea. In 1831, it was found that twenty Japanese sailors wrecked on the Philippines possessed Christian medals that they seemed to regard with superstitious veneration. When asked the meaning of these objects, they could give no satisfactory reply. All they knew about them was that they had been handed down from their ancestors as objects of devotion. After receiving instruction, seventeen of these men asked for baptism.
The Opium War in China (1840-1842) opened a new chapter in the history of the Far East. Other nations wished to have a share in the commercial advantages that England was gaining. Admiral Cecille, who was commander of the French fleet in Chinese waters, looked with favor upon the missionaries, not merely because he could use them in carrying out his plans for the extension of French influence, but also from a real interest in their work. He at one time meditated the occupation of some point in the Loochoo Islands, whose position between China and Japan proper made them a suitable place from which to overlook movements in each country. Affairs in China that necessitated his prescence caused him to postpone a proposed visit to these islands, Korea, and Japan. In April, 1844, he dispatched a corvette under the command of Captain Fornier-Duplan to reconnoitre Loocho. He also requested the Societe des Missions-Estrangeres to put at his disposal one of its missionaries who would consent to be left upon the islands in order to study the language so that he might at some future time accompany the admiral to Japan as interpreter. M. Forcade, a young missionary who had recently come to Macao, was appointed for this service.
M.Forcade waited impatiently for the promised coming Admiral Cecille. Two years passed by and he and not appeared. Meanwhile two or three English vessels had touched at Napha. April 30, 1846, another ship was seen approaching. As it drew near, M.Forcade was again disappointed to see it display an English flag; neither did it lighten his disappointment when he found that the vessel had brought a Protestant missionary, Dr. Bettelheim. Two days later, however, came the Sabine, a French navy. As soon as M.Forcade could obtain a boat, he hastened to the ship. hardly had he reached the deck when his neck was embraced by the arms of some one who exclaimed : “Once your pupil, now I am to be your co-laborer.” The person proved to be M.Leturdu, a fellow missionary who had been sent to reside in Loochoo.
The French ship that took M.Adnet to Loochoo brought back a favorable report of the treatment received by the missionaries. According to promises made to Admiral Cecille, three persons had been appointed to teach them the language, the monastery where they lived had been repaired, and they enjoyed considerable freedom of movement. Later intelligence, however, showed that, as soon as the ship had sailed away, the old restrictions had been renewed, though the missionaries were allowed to retain their teachers. One of these, who was styled the “chief teacher”, was really the chief spy. Apparently his duties were to note carefully the subjects of conversation and to see that the other instructors didn’t become too intimate with their pupils. When the missionaries went upon the streets, they were accompanied by guards to keep them from having any intercourse with the people. Purchases, however trifling,had to be made through one of the officers.
If the missionaries attempted to speak to any of their guards about Christianity, they were met by the reply : what you say is very good but we cannot listen. The Government does not wish us to do so, and we cannot disobey without incurring great danger.” There was however, an old man who had formerly been the head officer of a small island and who now found occasional opportunities to converse with the foreigners. One day, as M.Leturdu was walking on the seashore, the man made a sign for the missionary to follow him to a retired spot, and there asked him : “Will you not explain to me who Jesus is?”
M. Leturdu replied to the inquiry and then said : “It is for the purpose of teaching these things that I have come hither. Do you not wish to hear what we have to say?”
“Yes, yes; but it is dangerous. We cannot do so.”
“At least, promise me that every day you will use this prayer : ‘Lord, help me to know Thee’. Then, as soon as permission can be gained, come and listen to us.”
“I will do so,” was the reply.