Roman Catholic Missions — June 17, 2010 at 3:41 pm



Depiction of bearded Emperor Jimmu with his emblematic long bow and an accompanying wild bird -- artwork by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892).

Not only in the open port but also in the interior, there was an increasing number of conversions. In August 1875,one of the missionaries baptized in the village of Matsunaga (Suruga) thirty persons who had received instruction from a catechist. Soon after this, the number of worshippers at the annual festival of a Shinto shrine in the neighboring city of Numazu was much smaller than usual, whereupon those that mourned over the diminution of revenue decided that the advent of Christianity must be held accountable. They accordingly induced the officials to call together the heads of families to read to them the following document:

“Everyone knows that Japan is the Land of the Gods, and that the one hundred and eighty two Emperors, commencing with Jimmu Tenno, have for 2,535 years ruled the country. Certain foreign religions that came from India and China have already spread through the land and have lessened the respect paid to the gods. In our days the religion of Jesus also, although its followers are still few, is striving to possess the land. From a patriotic point of view this is greatly to be regretted, since it is not right that a person by allying himself with a foreign faith should become unmindful of the claims of his own country. Therefore we have this morning assembled the inhabitants of Numazu in order that we may administer to them a solemn oath, which shall be confirmed by this ceremony of offering a cup of sake at the shrine. By this oath they shall make a promise that neither they nor their descendants’ will ever accept the Christian religion. If anyone violates the promise, may the gods crush him under the weight of their curses”。

The people, with the exception of one man signified their willingness to take the oath. This one declared that, since he was a Christian, he could not do it. That evening he was called before the officers, who told him that he must write a statement declaring that he is a Christian. When he had done, they asked him what were the chief teachings of his religions, whereupon he produced a catechism, from which he read the Ten Commandments and other important sections. When the Christians of Matsunaga heard what had happened, they informed the missionaries, who at once sent two catechists, one of whom was well known in that region, as his father was the chief officer of Matsunaga. The catechists went to see the officials who had been responsible  for forcing the oath upon people, and got from them an acknowledgment that they had not received from their superiors any authorization for such an act. Having also procured a copy of the document to which the names had been signed, the catechists next went to the governor of the prefecture and gained his assurance that he was not responsible for what his subordinates had done. Returning to Numazu, they advertised that for a week they would hold preaching services in the house of the man that had refused to take the oath. Though the people at first were timid, the house was afterward crowed with persons wishing to listen.

In 1876, Mgr. Osouf wrote that the Russian schism was losing ground, while Protestantism was “increasing and was paralyzing the efforts of our missionaries by means of the publications that it lavishly scatters, and of the schools that it multiplies”

To meet what it regarded as dangerous heresies, the Mission published several books in opposition to the Protestants and the Russians. Indeed, its literary efforts at this time were largely expended upon works of this kind. The most elaborate book was one in four volumes, “Seikyo Bumpa Ron” (A Discussion Of The Divisions Of Western Religion”).This which was  written as thought by a Japanese, described the founding of  Christian church, the way in which the Greek and Protestant divisions arose, and the evil nature of these great heresies. The spirit in which this book was written may be judged by the opening sentences of Vol.III., which treats of Protestantism:

“Having already in the second Volume investigated the origin of the Russo_Greek Sect and shown its falsehood, evil, sin, and error, it is necessary in the third Volume to speak of the myriad sects of Protestantism so as to show there falseness, stupidity, error ,sin and atrocious evil. Protestantism had its origin in such great sins as uncleanness, licentiousness, robbery, and tyranny. If I describe it Japanese will look on it as shameful and unclean that they will not wish to listen to its teachings or give there assent to it”.

MEP Fathers and Seminarists in Southern Japan in 1881.

In 1880 ,Mgr. Petitjean removed to Nagasaki, he having become convinced that it was still the most important centre for the work of his vicariate.

In the city itself some conversions had occurred, so that a number of Christians was about two hundred and fifty。A judge who had taken part in the persecutions, expressed, shortly before his death, a desire to receive instruction, and he was finally baptized.

The patience and resignation that he showed during his last days were so marked as to astonish the physician, who asked him how he was able to endure his sufferings without complaint, and to face death so courageously. “you would  not be able to understand the reason were I to tell you,” was the reply; “Let it suffice for me to say that I count myself happy in being permitted to suffer and then to depart from this life”.

In the Urakami Valley the Roman Catholic population was then reckoned as 3,370.Athough one hundred families once included among the “separates” had returned to the pale of the church, two hundred other families still held aloof. To a considerable extent the village had recovered its former prosperity.

Strengthened by the persecutions through which they had passed, the Christians were fervent and zealous in good works. A missionary wrote of the valley as being one of the most Christian places in the world. There were chapels, schools, orphanages, a hospital, and a community of woman who while supporting themselves by tilling the ground or other occupations, also cared for the sick and orphans, taught the catechism to the children of the valley and held themselves ready to do any work of charity to which they might be called. A large building, which had formally been residence of the officers charged with enforcing the laws against Christianity, where the ceremony of trampling on the cross had formerly been preformed, and where ten years before the Christians’ had been convoked to hear the decree for their banishment, was purchased, and on July 7,1880, the Feast of the Japanese Martyrs was celebrated by beginning the work of transforming this building into a church. Dominic, the old hero, who had stood so firm throughout the persecutions, obtained from the Governor of Nagasaki permission to erect a large stone cross on the summit of one of the hills that overlooks the valley.

A letter written in 1883,by M. Fraineau gives such a vivid picture of some features of missionary life that the following abridgement of it will not be out of place:

“I started, May 30, for Ichimanda, which is about twenty leagues south of Oita. In that village there were a few catechumens. A peasant who possessed the best house in the place had consented to take out an inn keepers license so that I might lodge there. He was led to do this by no desire for religious instruction, for which he has always shown the most complete indifference, but by the love of the twelve sous that I promised to pay him daily for food and lodging.”

I installed myself in his house with fleas, mosquitoes’, and lice for my companions; for never have I seen a richer collection of these pests. It is the season when work in the fields is at its height, the farmers being busy harvesting wheat and preparing the fields to be planted with rice. The people who now serve as our landlords are laborers. In the morning after absorbing a kettleful of a kind of vermicelli boiled with cabbage leaves and wild greens, the whole house hold, including the cows and the horse, set out for the field without paying any attention to my catechist and me. I ought to say in excuse for my hosts that the person who came to Oita to consult about my entertainment arrived on a fast day and so reported that I ate only one meal in the day time. Thus, unknown to us, the fast had become a sin.

qua non . Behold then the catechist and me condemned to an enforced Lent three weeks long. I at one time thought of installing myself in the kitchen and leaving the people of the house free to reap there wheat and plant there rice in peace; but in the midst of heathen I could not indulge myself in such liberty. Dignity is more precious than life, and here it would be better for a person to perish with hunger then to lose prestige by condescending to occupations not appropriate to his sex and condition. Moreover, let us be patient; we shall be obliged to wait only until about two o’clock in the afternoon. It is at that time every day that the woman of the house, who has nether clock nor sundial, leaves her work and comes to see if we are still alive. In accordance with the rules of Japanese etiquette she always begins by bowing her head three times to the mat, asking us at the same time if we are in good health. She then makes many excuses, though without any real contrition, for having kept us waiting so long and says that we shall be served with food immediately, this meaning about an hour later, since it is now that she lights the fire and begins to heat the water for cooking rice.

“In the evening it is about half past ten before we get anything more to eat.

Here, as in a regiment of cavalry, the animals take precedence of the men. Before our need are supplied, it is necessary that food should be prepared for the cows and the horse, to say nothing of the five goats that have been left from morning to night without food and are now stunning us with the noise they make in one corner of the house. However, a person that has had dinner at two o’clock can wait until half past ten for his supper. These two grand meals whose preparation has given our hosts so much trouble consist invariably of a dish of rice and some boiled bamboo roots that have no other seasoning then an accent flavor of salt fish with which the wooden cover of the family kettle seems to be saturated as the result of years and perhaps ages of use. Apart from such trifling defects this is a very palatable dish. By adding vinegar and wearing green spectacles a person might make himself think he was eating asparagus.

Let us come to more serious matters. The bonzes follow me everywhere ,and I at least have the consolation of being able to say that, if they  make me trouble, I also on my side give them abundant anxiety and annoyance. It is certain that at night they do not lie down in so tranquil a state of mind as I do. Yet it is not my laurels that keep them from sleeping; for thus far, in appearance at least, my labours have not been crowned with very great success.

“I had hardly set foot in the village of Ichimanda at ten o’clock of a dark night and in a pouring rain, before the temple more than a league distant that cares for this section of the country learned of my arrival and prepared a pastoral letter to warn its people of the danger that menaced them. At daybreak the next morning this letter was carried from house to house, read to the member of each family, and re-enforced by the comments of its bearer. This letter was the fifth or sixth edition of what the bonzes had already said or written elsewhere. Not only was it tissue of calumnies, but it also contained menacing prophecies and invoked the anger of Japans guardian deities upon all that dared to come near me. It said I was the cause of the rain whose constant fall for fifteen days had made the grain rot; the cause of the thunder which, as it appears is more frequent than usual, while lightning has set fire to a farmhouse more than two leagues from the place where I am stopping; the cause for the floods that after the heavy rains inundated the fields to the destruction of the crops; etc, etc. These calamities are but the preludes of yet greater ones; for since my arrival flocks of crows frequently pass over the village by night with mournful croaks, and this is regarded by the heathen as a very evil omen.

“ To the written lies are added such as the bonzes did not dare to put on paper, probably because they would appear too absurd; but these are propagated by word of mouth and are readily accepted by the credulous peasants. Here are some samples.

Leaves of trees are changed in my hands to bank notes that afterwards resume their original form, so that a merchant who at the day’s close shuts up in his safe the money received from me is likely at some future time to find in its place only a handful of oak leaves. Hence it is always with fear and but poorly concealed hesitancy that people receive paper money from me, and I have to take special care that the notes are not of to high denominations. one day the people of a wayside inn where my catechist and I had eaten rice preferred to make us a present of it rather than give us change for a one yen bill. It is said that my glance will cause all sorts of evil to people that happen to meet me on the road when I am in ill humor; their bodies are likely some day to crumble into dust as suddenly as though they had been struck by lightning. By my mere wish I can poison the water in the wells and I can confound my enemies while they are at a long distance from me.

In the mist of these  ill disposed and hostile people I have found some friendly persons. There are some souls here that the good God seems to have chosen, and it was for there sakes that I came. Their instruction had been begun by Peter, a poor laborer who was baptized in March. On his return home he tried to teach others and succeeded in leading some families of the neighborhood until there were more than a dozen applications for baptism. To them I was not a mysterious being, half man and half demon; I was not even a stranger; but I was the Lords messenger, whose coming they awaited with impatience received as a priest that had come among his children. It was a great joy for me to see the ardour with which, notwithstanding the labors of the day in what was a busy season of the year, the poor people came every evening to hear an explanation of the truths of our holy religion. The catechetical instruction began immediately after our supper, that is to say, according to the custom of our hostelry, between half past ten and eleven o’clock in the evening, and it always ended after midnight by all reciting the evening prayer. I need not tell you of the annoyances and troubles to which my new catechumens were subjected. Knowing already that the disciple is not above his lord, they were resigned to all .There was only one thing that they could not bring themselves to accept. They did not wish that anyone should insult them by calling them Christians.

The doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to them too good and its morality too pure for them to be able, notwithstanding what the bonzes said, to confuse it with the tissue of crimes and magic of which the reports had come down to them ancient times; and they persuaded themselves that the ‘Religion of the Lord of Heavens’ was certainly not the same as that preached by Saint Francis Xavier to their ancestors.

With all their favorable disposition and their ardour to receive instruction, they would have been ready to give up everything the day they should learn positively that they were on the point of joining the sect of ancient Christians, so much doses that name, sullied by the calumnies of the bonzes, arouse hatred and repugnance in the popular mind. In the beginning I had respect for their weakness and took the greatest care to avoid what would enlighten them too quickly. They needed to be prepared for the reception of the unwelcome truth.

“Finally the time came when I could no longer leave them in ignorance. It was a very solemn moment when on a beautiful Sabbath evening, in commencing a catechetical exercise on the First Commandment, I told them that the religion they were about to embrace by receiving baptism was the very one that had been revealed for three hundred years, and that the God whom they ought to worship was even the same Jesus Christ who had been so despised in their country. This declaration came to them like a clap of thunder. The questions and cheerful remarks that had made our lessons so pleasant came to an end ;all the heads sank in consternation to the mats; and the deep sighs that escaped from the breasts of these poor men attested the terrible struggle going on in their hearts. I was the only one to speak and often my voice betrayed even to myself how great was my emotion. It might be this evening would see the end of all the hopes I had been cherishing. At the close of the meeting, when I asked them whether they were willing to give way before the calumnies of the bonzes or whether they would not have the courage to make a momentary sacrifice of their reputation for the sake of God who so loved them and had died for them, all replied with a magnificent profession of faith

“’Not only of our reputation but also of our property and of our lives.”

If we must be called Christians we will use that name ourselves; and far from being ashamed we will glory in it.’

“ The news of this caused a great commotion in a village. The annoyances took a new turn and become a real persecution .The village mayor and the physician ,the two great men of the village, were induced by the bonzes to put themselves at the head of the movement against the Christians. Especially did the mayor, aided by a subordinated, display an adour worthy of a better cause. When he learned that our catechumens instead of yielding, had thrown away their idols and were preparing for baptism his anger could not be kept within bounds. Unmindful of the fact that he was acting not only against human rights but also against the laws of his country, which placed him in office to serve as a peacemaker rather than as a judge, he called all the heads of the families to his office and opened a court as a Roman governor in the time of Nero or Diocletian might have done. He ordered our people to apostatize under penalty, in case of refusal, of having all their goods at once confiscated and given into the hands of their creditors, and of having all the village cease from having friendly relations with them. They would be forbidden to draw water from the village well, to cut wood on the mountains, to hold communications with other people, etc. ,etc. The mayor thought in view of such threats the catechumens would hasten to submit. None of them, not even of the woman, appeared alarmed or affected by his words, and all openly declared that, although they had not yet received baptism, they were already Christians at heart, so that, even though their heads were to be cut off, no one could make them give up their faith.

“Our catechumens held meetings by themselves holy assemblies in which they exhorted one another to preserve carefully in their hearts the gift of faith which God had bestowed upon them and which the devil was trying to take away. Let me cite especially the noteworthy meeting where the patriarchs of the band addressed the little company to the following effect:

“since our relatives and friends reject us let us form a new family.”

Persecuted as we are for the same cause, let us unite our efforts so as to sustain each other. Let us have only one heart and one soul. Let us strengthen our courage by a mutual agreement , and though men may try to force us to deny Jesus Christ ,let us here take an oath that we will remain faithful and be ready for any sacrifice rather than abandon Him.’

“ Ere the meeting adjourned the form of the oath was settled upon, and the paper on which it was written was passed around the assembly. The men affixed there seals, while each woman pricked the point of a finger with a needle and so signed with her own blood”.

About 1886, their was begun a charitable work that soon attracted the notice and admiration of European residents in Japan. A woman suffering from leprosy, and for that reason abandoned by her husband, had found shelter beneath a miserable roof that was built over the wheel of a rice mill. Her bed was a course straw matting spread over the boards that formed the cover of the sluiceway. Her food consisted of a cup of rice bestowed daily by her relatives, who otherwise did hardly anything for her relief.

The disease made rapid progress and she was soon totally blind. It is not strange that the temptation to take her own life often presented itself to her mind. In some way, however, she gained knowledge of Christianity and desired to receive baptism. M. Testevuide, who was asked to administer the rite, says:

“While I was seeking upon her brow, disfigured as it was with leprosy, some place to apply the water, the woman wept; but it was now with a joy that brightened up her face, notwithstanding the sores with which it was entirely covered”.

He could not bear to leave her in such a place. Her brother, who was displeased that a foreign priest had come to see her, showed no disposition to help in better her condition. M. Testevuide wished to get her into a hospital; but at that time there was in all Japan no place where such a patient would be received. His interest in this woman led him to reflect on the sad lot of thousands of Japanese who were suffering from the same disease. The desire grew strong in his heart to do something for the relief of these unfortunate persons. In a letter telling the bishop of his wish to devote his life to such work he said:

“I am not ignorant of the dangers to which I shall expose myself. Someday, perhaps I shall see myself shut off from your society and that of my brethren. If God in his just and merciful designs should permit me to be infected with the evil that I desire to heal in others, I will remind myself of the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ not to leave without reward a cup of water given in his name, and I will present myself at His tribunal with a greater degree of confidence. I will ask of you as a last favor only this, that you will permit me to live and die among my poor lepers”

Some friends gave him a small sum of money with which he hired a house in the neighborhood of Gotemba, a town at the base of Mount Fuji. Though the house was far removed from other habitations, the people did not like the idea of having a leaper hospital so near to them, and they tried to get the owner to refuse to rent the house.

M. Testevuide insisted for a time that the bargain already made should be kept; but finally in order to avoid trouble, he sent away the few lepers he had gathered and sent himself to collect money for the erection of a building of his own. The foreign communities in the open ports, always quick to respond to charitable appeals, soon furnished him with funds that enabled him to purchase a tract of about six acres, on which he erected a small hospital. There he lived in close intimacy with the leapers, alleviating their sufferings, cheering their hearts by his kind words, and giving them religious instruction. The best known methods of medical treatments were used. In some cases the external signs of the disease so far disappeared that the patents could  go back to live once more with their friends. As M. Testevuide did not believe that complete cure could be effected, he always told such persons to come again for treatment the moment that there was a reappearance of trouble.

Such patents as were able to do so, worked in the garden, which was thus made to furnish much of the food needed by the community. Japanese Christians were found who gladly gave themselves to the work of nursing the sufferers. Mention is made of  one man that shut himself up for life among the leapers, making only the one condition that food should be provided for his own family. Such kindness as was shown by M. Testevuide and his associates could not fail to touch the hearts of its recipients and make them willing to listen to the Gospel that had inspired such love and self sacrifice.

Though M. Testevuide did not become infected with the dreaded disease, his years of labor for the leapers were but few. He died in 1891, but the work begun by him has been continued with similar devotion by others.

An extract from the Japan Weekly Mail of November 26,1887,gives a birds eye view of the educational work of the Roman Catholic mission at the time :

“ The missionaries… are exclusively French. It is a large and powerful mission, numbering nearly sixty fathers and over forty Sisters of Charity. Most of the staff is attached to the seminaries and convents in the capital and the out ports. The rest are scattered over the country. The two parent seminaries of the Mission, which were established simultaneously at Nagasaki and Tokyo date from the year1872, and the Yokohama Convent School was founded in the same year.

The Following account abridged from the given in 1895,by M. Marnas, will serve to show some of the methods by which the work was carried on:

“The Marianites, History will not be able to bring against modern missionaries in Japan the reproach urged by Rohrbacher against those of former times that they did not pay sufficient attention to raising up a native clergy. This work, which holds the first place in the solicitude of the bishops, is in excellent condition. Up to the present time twenty three priests have been ordained.

“ One very remarkable thing in Japan is the taste that the people have developed for public speaking. Perhaps there is no country in the world where there is more of this and where the people listen so well without signs of weariness.* The Japanese are naturally eloquent and it is not rare to find, even among men of meager education, a real talent for extemporaneous speech. Whoever has anything to say can always find an attentive audience. All that is necessary to do is to hang out through the day before the gate a paper lantern on which is written in Chinese ideographs a notice of the lecture; and at evening the speaker, whether he be a politician, a preacher, or a simple storyteller, finds seated on mats before him an audience made up of people of all ages  and classes, who smoke their tiny pipes and sip tea while they willingly listen until late at night to whatever may be said.

“ The catechists mission does not end here he remembers the Chinese proverb: A chance word often accomplishes more than a well prepared discourse’. All the time not given to study is devoted to interviews with the heathens and especially with the catechumens. He teaches them the holy doctrine; he prepares them for baptism; he shows an interest in children, invalids, and poor people; he takes part in joy and sorrows of the family whose confident and friend he becomes; and it often happens that it is by his deeds rather than by his words that he gains for God the souls of his brethren. The work of the catechist therefore completes that of the missionary. He prepares the way for the latter by winning for him the minds and hearts of men. Without him the evangelization of the people ,if not impossible , would at least be very difficult . In the midst of the Christian communities the catechists fill a deferent place but one no less useful. In the absence of the priests it is he that gathers the Christians for the rectal of prayers, that exhorts them to remain faithful that instructs the children, and prepares them for the reception of the sacraments.

*This interest in public speaking of which M. Marnas writes is a matter of recent growth ,and to a considerable extent it is due to Christian influence. In former times there was, of course , no public discussion of political questions and Buddhist priests did but little preaching. Among Japan’s noted men it would be hard to select any who were famous as orators. As soon as the public proclamation of Christian doctrine became possible, Protestant missionaries and afterwards the native evangelist began to preach .Those of the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Churches did the same  somewhat later to a less degree. The Buddhist priests found that in order to retain a hold upon their followers it was necessary to do more than formerly for their instruction. The advocates of popular rights soon saw the advantage of public discussion as a means for arousing the people ,and so political lectures became common.

“ In order  to reach the upper  classes of society the bishops appeal to the Marianites to establish colleges in the principal cities. The first members of the order, who arrived at Tokyo in 1887 under the direction of the Abbe Heinrich, were favorably recommended to the Japanese authorities by the French Minister. When permission had been obtained for opening a school in the capital, they rented building and commenced their first term with sixty pupils .These belonged to the best families in Tokyo and Yokohama, Protestant as well as Catholic.

“If words are powerful, works are much more so. When an epidemic breaks out, when the cholera rages as it did in 1886 and 1890, missionaries, nuns, and Christians believers are to be seen carrying help to the sick in the unostentatious manner of persons that are performing the most elementary duties. In 1890 M M. Brotelande, Vigroux, and Lecomte saw their devoted labors in the hospitals of the capital rewarded by the baptism of five hundred cholera patents .In Tokyo the older orphan girls under the care of Dames of Saint Maur aroused the admiration of the physicians and hospital officers, who gave to these improvised nurse the recompense usually bestowed on attendance of the first class; but what was more pleasing to these orphans was the number of baptisms that they were able to administer. In 1891 and 1892 when influenza prevailed a single Christian obtained the baptism of four hundred adults .It is not only under unusual circumstances and at the time of great epidemics that Catholic charity is manifested. Among the nuns are some that care for the sick, either visiting them in their homes or bringing them to the convent. They have pharmacies and dispensaries where every year they give remedies and help to thousands of people and where they obtain many conversions or prepare the way for them. Others have small hospitals where they receive sick people who have no other refuge and who for the most part find there the benefit of a Christian death. But the most extensive work conducted by the sisterhoods is that done in the orphanages. Thanks to the Society of the Holy Infancy, they are bringing up in ten institutions about fifteen hundred orphan girls who find all the care that could have been given by their own parents, the affection of such parents often refuse, and beyond all this the inexpressible advantage of a Christian training  and education . The nuns teach these children such industries as will give them a means of support in future days. Nearly all these young girls are Christians when they leave the orphanage.

At about the time described by M. Marnas the Roman Catholic missionaries were feeling, with others, the results of the reaction against Western ideas. M. Bulet wrote:

” The characteristics  note of period we are  passing  through is , if I am not mistaken  ,a real religious indifference ,which is more difficult to overcome then the ancient  hostility ,which made martyrs”. Archbishop Osouf reported: “Nearly all missionaries complain of a want in their Christians, the absence of zeal to propagate their religion around them”. One missionary wrote of a place where about thirty catechumens had fallen away during the year, under the influence of political excitement and the revulsion of feeling against foreigners;” This year has been the most painful of my life . To judge by the number of baptisms I have to report, one might doubt of the zeal of my five catechist .Nothing could be more unjust.

…..St. Paul (2 Tim.iv.) has well described the state of my district: ‘There shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine, but will turn away their hearing from the truth and will turned unto fables.’”*


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