Rumors of a change in the policy of the Government increased. By the end of 1872, the exiles were receiving more lenient treatment, and there were many indications that brighter days were at hand.
“EDICTS AGAINST THE CHRISTIANS REMOVED. PRISONERS FREED. INFORM ROME, PROPAGATION OF FAITH, HOLY INFANCY. NEED IMMEDIATELY FIFTEEN MISSIONARIES.”
Such was the message written in March 1873, by Mgr. Petitjean and sent to HongKong for transmission to the Missionary Society in Paris. Orders had at last been sent for the return of all exiles, and ere long, companies of them began to arrive in Nagasaki. What Joy for them to come back to their beloved valley, which some of them had not seen for more than three years, and others for five years!
Those that returned were in great poverty. Many at the time of their departure had sold their lands at any price they could get, and were now forced to cultivate less fertile ground on the sides of the mountains. The Christians of other places came to the help of their brethren, as the first harvest was bountiful, the severest stress was soon relieved.
The Christians that had been sent into exile had not suffered in vain. Not only had they been one of the means for bringing about religious freedom, but they had also impressed some people who saw them with profound respect for their faith. Hon. Ebara Soroku, a prominent Methodist and a leading Member of Parliament, says that some of the exiles were placed under his care by a provincial governor, who afterwards became, like himself a Christian and a member of the National House of Representatatives.
Hon. Kataoka Kenkichi, who several times Speaker of the House of Representatives, says that in his city of Kochi about sixty of the Christians, before being sent back to their homes, were taken to a Buddhist temple in order that the priests might make one more effort to persuade them to renounce their faith. Their steadfastness so surmised the priests that is said some of them decided to become Christians. Mr. Kataoka adds: “To the exiles I attribute my first leanings towards Christianity and my subsequent Christian belief.” It will be seen that at the end of the period of persecution the Roman Catholic missionaries had several thousand adherents. They counted the Christians directly connected with them as fifteen thousand, while ,they knew that there were many thousands more who considered that they held the faith of accent Christians, but who had not yet entered, as many of them afterward did, into formal relations with the missionaries. In comparing the results of what has been accomplished by the Roman Catholic, the Greek, and the Protestant churches, the great number of adherents that the first had had from the beginning must be remembered. On the other hand, however, it cannot be forgotten that its missionaries have labored under the great disadvantage of being the successors of those who were believed to have brought great evils upon the country two hundred and fifty years before. Though the common people were slow to learn of any distinctions, educated persons were aware that there was a great difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Many who were bitterly prejudiced against the former were not unwilling to examine the teaching of the latter.