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Persecuted Christians should follow Japanese example, says Francis

By on Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience today (CNS)

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience today (CNS)

Christians facing difficulties and discrimination, especially in the Middle East, can learn a valuable lesson from Japanese Christians who survived by clandestinely baptising, praying and hiding during 250 years of harsh persecution, Pope Francis has said.

“Difficulties and persecution, when they are lived with trust, confidence and hope, purify the faith and strengthen it,” he said in his general audience talk in St Peter’s Square earlier today.

“Be true witnesses of Christ and his Gospel, authentic children of the Church, always ready to give reasons for your hope with love and respect,” he told pilgrims from the Middle East.

Pope Francis went on to underline how important baptism is for the people of God and for keeping the faith alive by pointing to the experience of Christians in Japan in the early 17th century.

Every single priest was expelled from the country, he said, while thousands of Christians there were killed and those who were left went underground, praying and practicing the faith clandestinely.

When missionaries were allowed to return after nearly 250 years, they found thousands of Christians ready to help the Church blossom again, the Pope explained.

Japanese Christians “survived with the grace of baptism,” which, because there were no priests, was conferred to every newborn by his baptised mother or father, he said.

“They maintained, even in secrecy, a strong spirit of community because baptism made them become one single body in Christ: they were isolated and hidden, but they were always members of the people of God, of the Church,” he continued. “We can learn a lot from this history.”

Later, in a greeting to pilgrims from Jordan and the Holy Land, Pope Francis urged them to learn from the Japanese example how to keep “the flame of faith always lit, transmitting it from one generation to the other.”

Every Christian has the duty to transmit the faith, he said before adding, “With this grace, the Christian people journey over time like a river that irrigates the earth and spreads God’s blessing across the world.”

  • SimonS

    I must admit, that if I were living in Syria, or other similar regions, the prospect of leaving would be substantially more appealing than living clandestinely in the hope that everything will become fine at some undefined point in the future.

  • jowebb

    Knowing is more important than Belief or Faith.We are constantly closing our minds to Reality,Science is the answer

  • mikethelionheart

    Answer to what?
    How electricity works?
    How to get a rocket to the Moon?
    How to make an artificial burger?

    What are you dribbling on about?

  • Francis

    Answer to what? I’m pretty sure I have a higher level of education in math, science and engineering than you do and I have no clue what you are talking about. Please educate me on whether the Universe is holographic, multi-universe or actually designed by a superior being (i.e., God). Do you understand what a quantum well, Higgs boson, M-string, or dark matter is? I guess many famous theoretical physicists are closing their minds to Reality too because they believe in some sort of God because the Universe is too ordered. I remember Michio Kaku talking about not believing in the God that smitten the philistines but the God that designed and created the Universe. But I guess your too smart for that.

  • AnthonyPatrick

    Yes, indeed, but to be fair, Simon, Pope Francis did not say that: he talked about living in hope (not the same thing), strengthening and purifying faith, keeping the Faith alive with the grace of baptism. The image of holding fast to Christ crucified for our sakes in a world where Satan is sanctified comes to mind, rather than vague promises or worldly conceptions of a nebulous spiritual wonderland.

  • Dave

    Yes, but it is often difficult and dangerous to get out, hard to leave your homeland behind where you have strong ties, it is difficult to leave even some of one’s friends and family whom one wants to help, and often one feels guilty about leaving instead of staying and helping in spite of the difficulties. At least that is my experience as a refugee.

  • bill b

    Agree Simon. if the Vatican taxed each of the 1.16 billion Catholics $3 a year just for relocation money, it would collect one billion after deducting for the no shows and the very poor. One billion per year could move a lot of people to say…the Catholic continent if same needs workers and tax base growth.

  • SimonS


    Even as a non-emergency migrant, with family scattered over the world, it took a good 5-years for home to feel home. I feel incredibly fortunate to not be a refugee, and not to have had to make those choices.

    I hope you have been able to re-establish family ties, and settle well where you have ended up.

  • SimonS

    I was perhaps reading more into the title of the article, than into the words of the pope – which I read as “Follow the Japanese example (and dig in, rather than flee)”.

  • SimonS

    Personally, I would (and have) put money towards the UNHCR who aim to support all of those fleeing war under these circumstances.

    Unfortunately the cash available is (currently) vastly less than needed.

  • Dave

    Thank you.

  • Ephremthesyrian

    Could not agree less with this attitude. The Christian converts in Japan did suffer persecution but for political more than religious reasons. The Catholics were seen as agents of foreign powers. In the Muslim states we deal with Christians in their homelands being attacked because they do not convert. In practice Islam has a blind spot where tolerance and conscience ought to be. Benedict XIV came to realise that dialogue with Islam was only possible on non-religious, broad humanitarian terms. As religious doctrine informs even that the conversation is very likely to stall. The religious triumphalism currently gripping the Islamic world needs to be intellectually challenged and fought not placated with words suggesting just grin and bare it and pray. Many Christians in the ME will take no comfort from the Holy Father’s words.

  • Dave

    “Be true witnesses of Christ and his Gospel” does not mean “just grin and bare it and pray.”

  • Ephremthesyrian

    typo….Benedict XVI…..of course

  • chrisinva

    In the US XIX century RC’s were also papists, “agents of a foreign power.” Does that explain the virulent anti-Catholicism, or was it merely an excuse?

    Regarding Islam, Benedict insisted that dialogue was possible **only** on rational grounds (Regensburg). **Cooperation** on humanitarian grounds was however possible.

  • Ephremthesyrian

    Fine words, unless you are facing some brute with a gun. In the west you do not understand what is going on. You are detached from the reality.

  • Ephremthesyrian

    The primary meaning of Humanitarian is “concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare”. That is the sense in which I used it and that is I believe the context the Pope Emeritus envisaged dialogue.
    In Japan Catholicism was identified with Spanish imperialism. It also overthrew cultural certainties. Extinguishing it would remove an existential threat. There is an element of this in the ME but the real target is the “alien body” of Christianity which ought to have died out with the advent of the Islamic State.

  • Dave

    In the West? Where again in Syria are you writing from, Ephrem?

    “Be true witnesses of Christ and his Gospel” are even better words when faced with a brute with a gun.

    ܛܘܒܝܗܘܢ ܠܐܝܠܝܢ ܕܐܬܪܕܦܘ ܡܛܠ ܟܐܢܘܬܐ ܕܕܝܠܗܘܢ ܗܝ ܡܠܟܘܬܐ ܕܫܡܝܐ

  • chrisinva

    Thanks for the note. Of course, Islam does not permit intellectual independence of any kind, including even the natural law, becase – and I think this is key in your post — for Islam, the political and the theological are one.

    Once upon a time they did allow thinking — but that stopped centuries ago. See Robert Reilly’s “The Closing of the Muslim Mind.”

  • Tom_mcewen

    Of course we should all pick the people who make us happy or those we love by the use of science. Science tells us all what is important in life, why we are here, what we should chose to do with our lives. Science is incredibly important in choosing which of your children you should love more, got to weigh all the attributes of of each child and decide with science which is most worthy of life. I know women use the use of science when they choose their shoes and weigh the worth of a rose and a romantic dinner. Yes let us explain that we gave our girlfriend a lump of coal which science tells what a diamond is after are. Science is so useful, I will remember that on my death bed or if I survive I will tell those I love about the science of death, no lovely words from me, I will use science. I have known science for 40 years, science is for cooking the meal, life is enjoying the meal you cooked, it is a tool nothing more.

  • Ephremthesyrian

    Islam’s view of intellectual speculation is simple. If it serves the faith and does not contradict revelation then it is good, if otherwise it is bad and to be condemned. The methodology of Islamic philosophers greatly impacted Catholic thought. There was indeed a “golden age” when Arab Islam absorbed and developed the learning of the conquered peoples. At that time theological disputation between Christians and Muslims was possible. The fall of Baghdad to the Mongols was a significant “closing down” event. Further east, however, the Persians, Afghans and Mughal Indians were more inclined to speculation.
    Catholics have no official philosophic schools but logically those that are considered to serve the Church are preferred. It is not an exact parallel with the Islamic case given the quasi-sacramental status of the word in the Qur’an to Muslim scholars. Pope Benedict, I believe, shocked some “traditionalists” by his interest in modern German philosophy. The Sunni Grand Mufti of Damascus caused a stir when he intimated that acceptance of the truths of Islam must be based in reason as well as faith. Where have we heard that before.

  • AnthonyPatrick

    Well said, Tom.

  • Micha_Elyi

    True. Pope Francis is not advocating streaking, with a rosary in hand or not.