Though the United States in 1854 negotiated a treaty with Japan, this and the similar arrangements made by other Western nations did not provide for the residence of foreigners in the country. It was, however, evident that the first breach had been made in the barriers that shut the Japanese away from other peoples and that the time could not be far distant when it would be possible for even religious teachers to enter within the walls. In accordance with the plans made by M.Colin, Messieurs Girard, Furet, and Mermet were sent in February, 1855, to Loochoo, which was again chosen as the point from which to watch the progress of events in Japan. No more cordial welcome was given to them than had been received by their predecessors.
One of the officials told the foreigners that they must go to see the Regent. On reaching the latter’s residence at the time appointed, they were told that the Regent was so vexed at their landing that he could not speak to them until two hours later. When they were finally admitted, a statement was read in which the Regent said that, since the people of Loochoo had a religion of their own, they did not need Christianity. If the Frenchmen were allowed to remain, other Europeans would come in such numbers as to cause great trouble to their country, which was so small, poor, and unproductive that it scarcely furnished sufficient food for its present inhabitants.
After the question had been discussed for a while, M.Girard said : “We are brought here by duty. The captain cannot take us on board again. you may be as severe as you please against us; but we cannot go away. You shall kill us rather.”
The letter that we have been following says:
“At least the Regent, seeing our firmness and unshaken resolution, and fearing lest the French Admiral should refuse him his assistance against the pirates, permitted Messrs, Furet, Girard, and Mermet to occupy the bonzery on condition that in the course of two or three months they should be fetched away.”
M.Mermet’s health was so impaired by his devotion to study that it was found advisable for him to remove, in 1857, to Hongkong. The next year he accompanied Baron Gros, who negotiated a treaty between France and Japan. This, which was similar in its provisions to the American treaty that had just been negotiated by Hon. Townsend Harries, permitted French citizens to reside in certain ports.
Unknown to the missionaries, descendants of the ancient Christians of Japan were being subjected to a new persecution the same year that this treaty was arranged. Eighty persons living near Nagasaki were suddenly arrested, and though the majority were at once set free, thirty of them were put in prison. There they endured tortures and privations under which ten of them died, while the health of others who were released in a year or two was so shattered that most of them did not survive.
In November, 1859, M. Mermet reached Hakodate. His experiences in Loochoo and the knowledge that he had already gained of the Japanese language enabled him to confer directly with the Japanese officials and to set aside the many obstacles that they at first put in his way. The vigor with which he began his labors is shown by a letter that he wrote only eight days after his arrival. In it he said :
“I wish I could tell you of being already settled in my house, which is to cost a hundred dollars; but that cannot be for another week. Every day the house is getting into shape. I spur on the workmen, and cheer them with sake at an expense of four hundred cash a week. I am very busy. I am giving lesson sin English and French; I help the Consul; I go about among the ships; I measure rafters and beams; I plan out work that Mrs. Hodgson (Wife of the English Consul) is doing for the adornment of my chapel, which will be very handsome, thanks to the cheapness of silks and embroideries…I have had an audience with three Japanese princes. I have seen and conquered. A find piece of land has been granted to me temporarily, that is, so long as I remain in Hakodate. This has made all the consuls jealous, since none of them had been able to procure it for even a term of six months.”
A month later he had commenced the erection of a chapel. He appeared to have won the good will of all classes of people. He wrote :
“I have visited the principal officers of the city and have been visited by them. On showing them my modest chapel, I said that I had built it for them and for all the Japanese…They have given me all necessary aid for the pursuit of my studies. Everybody knows me and salutes me with respect. All the Japanese strive to find some excuse for coming to see me. There are some sick people for whom I am caring, and they do not know how to express sufficiently their gratitude. My little chapel is frequented by Russians as well as by some American and English Catholics. Foreign residents, seeing that I am on such good terms with the authorities, come to visit me. I have opened a school for teaching French.”
In March of the next year he wrote :
“Everybody comes to talk with me, even the bonzes, who in the bottom of their hearts hate me and who every week preach against me sermons whose invariable conclusion is ; ‘May the holy Amida drive out the erroneous doctrine of the Frenchman.’ This, however, does not prevent them from coming to taste my wine nor from sending me presents of little cakes.”
M.Mounicou removed in 1861 from Loochoo to Yokohama and was entrusted with the work of superintending the construction of a church on land that had already been procured by M.Girard. This building was consecrated January 12, 1862. Though the church was nominally for the use of Europeans, it was hoped that ere long it would be frequented by the people of the country. As soon as it was thrown open to visitors, large numbers of Japanese came to see it. M.Girard wrote February 25 :
“During a month our chapel has been visited every day by crowds of Japanese of every class and every rank; men, women, and children, old people, officers, bonzes. There have been a thousand on one day. We joyfully yielded to the pressing solicitations of their praiseworthy and pious curiosity; we explained the meaning of the religious pictures which adorned it, making use of them as an introduction to the more complete instruction of these people in our holy law; when suddenly there was communicated to us sorrowful news which threw us into consternation. Thirty-three of our listeners were seized coming out from our bounds, chained, and thrown into prison. On the morrow, nevertheless, the visitors continued numerous; the same anxiety was manifested to question, the same respect and docility to hear us. Was what we heard false? Unfortunately, our new hearers soon learned by their own experience that the arrests were too true. Twenty-two of them met the same fate as the former. Immediately the panic spreads in all directions. The news of the persecution is confirmed, and the strangers in the land are everywhere agitated. Our church is deserted.”
The construction of the church went on but slowly, and as it neared completion in December, 1864, the builder invented more difficulties than ever. He even threatened to suspend work altogether. Just at this time the Governor asked M. Petitjean, one of the missionaries, who after two years on Loochoo had come in 1862 to Nagasaki, if he would not become the teacher of French in a school that was about to be opened. “I should be glad,” said the missionary, “to do what is desired; but until I am free from the cares connected with the construction of my building, it will be impossible to assent.”
“When,” asked the officers, “do you wish that your temple should be finished?”
“By the first of January.”
The next morning three times the usual number of carpenters appeared. Work went on by night and day, so that the church was completed at the close of the year.
As we have seen, the missionaries from the first had hoped to find descendants of the early Christians still retaining a knowledge of the faith of their ancestors. Their inquiries, however, brought no intelligence that seemed trustworthy. To M. Petitjean was given the great joy of learning that their hopes had not been without foundation. The story is best told in his own words: –
“On March 17, 1865, about half past twelves, some fifteen persons were standing at the church door. Urged no doubt by my guardian angel, I went up and opened the door. I had scarce time to say a Pater when three women between fifty and sixty years of age knelt down beside me and said in a low voice placing their hands upon their hearts:
“‘The hearts of all of us here do not differ from yours’
“‘Indeed!’ I exclaimed, ‘Whence do you come?’
“They named the village, adding: ‘All there have the same hearts as we.’
“Blessed be Thou, O my God, for all the happiness which filled my soul! What a compensation for five years of barren ministry! Scarcely had our dear Japanese opened their hearts to us than they displayed an amount of trustfulness which contrasts strangely with the behavior of their pagan brethren. I was oblged to answer all their questions and to talk to them of O Deusu Sama, O Yasu Sama, and Santa Maria Sama, by which names they designated God, Jesus Christ, and the Blessed Virgin. The view of the statue of the Madonna and Child recalled Christmas to them, which they said they had celebrated in the eleventh month. They asked me if we were not in the seventeenth day of the Time of Sadness (Lent); nor was Saint Joseph unknown to them; they call him O Yasu Sama no Yofu, ‘the adoptive father of our Lord.’ In the midst of this volley of questions, footsteps were heard. Immediately all dispersed; but as soon as the newcomers were recognized, all returned laughing at their fright.
“‘They are people of our village,’ they said, ‘They have the same hearts as we have.’
“However, we had to separate for fear of awakening the suspicions of the officials, whose visit I feared.”
In the last months of 1865, notwithstanding the commands given by the officials, many deputations of Christians came to the church, among them being several from the Goto Islands. M. Petitjean at about the same time put the number of those in and around Nagasaki at twenty thousand; but in 1868, he informed the United States Minister that, so nearly as could be estimated, the number in the whole empire was about twenty thousand. In 1896, the Vicar Apostolic of Southern Japan said that, in all, fifty thousand descendants of the ancient Christians were discovered, though only about one-half of them re-entered the church, the remainder – “the rich”, as he put it, – refusing to do so.
In November the head officer of Urakami assembled the chiefs of the villages, together with some of the principal Christians, and addressed them as follows :
“I supposed that after the misfortunes coming upon you ten years ago you had ceased to be Christians. On the contrary, I know that you often go to the European priests. I know that for a year you have been going to them for instruction, that your children are employed as their servants, and that you have carried many plants to ornament the grounds about the church. I wished to warn you earlier, but was prevented by illness. Believe me, you are doing wrong. Cease from such acts if you do no wish to be severely punished. I say this to you, who are the principal men of our village, so that you may prevail on you people not to provoke the Governor’s anger by continuing to frequent the church.”
All listened in silence to this exhortation and departed without making any reply. The visits by day to the church became infrequent; but every night many men came to the residence of the missionaries to receive instruction and prepare for the communion.
In January, 1867, M.Laucaigne began to make visits to the Urakami valley, remaining several days at a time in the retreats that the people prepared for him in the different hamlets. he himself has given to us some details of the methods that he used : –
“When nearly every one had gone to bed and there were but few people in the streets, I would lay aside the cassock that I usually wore and put on a Japanese dress that our Christians had made for me, a wig that was a gift from one of them, and some straw sandals, which, if it were muddy, served for but a single trip. The girdle about the waist and a kerchief around the head completed my costume. In this disguise I went among the Christians accompanied by two young men who carried a lantern and what I needed for saying mass. When I reached the Christian quarters, I was sure of meeting a company of the faithful who came out in fron of their houses or walked along the fields on the edge of the road that they knew I would take. As soon as I came near them, they would kneel and make the sign of the cross; it was their way of saluting and of asking the blessing of their spiritual father. The Christians prepared for my reception little hiding places in the most retired parts of their houses. Sometimes the little altar before which I was to say mass would be set up in a barn that on the outside had all the appearance of a shepherd’s hut. It was always in the middle of the night that I said mass; all was over by dawn. Those that had been in attendance returned at once to their homes; there remained with me only so many persons as I could hear confess during the day. It goes without saying that I took good care not to go out by day lest I should be recognized by the heathen. It was only by night that I went to visit the sick or changed my residence. I remained but little more than a week consecutively in one place. Those were the happiest moments of my life.”
As believers in remote communities learned of the presence of missionaries in Nagasaki, , many of them came for instruction. Since the Hall of the Immaculate Conception could give shelter to only about twenty persons each night, others had to await their turn. The Urakami people, although most of them were poor, gladly offered hospitality to their fellow-believers. One of the leading Christians sometimes had more than twenty of these visitors lodging him.