Thursday, February 09, 2012
Monday was the feast of Paul Miki and companions, martyrs for the faith in 16th century Japan. The Jesuit homilist gave a brief description of the group, who were marched hundreds of miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki in the winter. In addition to Paul Miki and two other Jesuits, six Franciscan priests and a number of lay people, including some children (altar servers according to one account I read) were crucified on February 6th in Nagasaki, preaching and praying up to the last. Catholicism went underground in Japan for the next two centuries, there were several hundred thousand Catholics still practicing their faith when the Church officially returned in 1867.
I knew the story, but for the first time had a visceral connection. When I was in Kyoto last fall, we visited Shunko-in, a Zen Buddhist temple founded in 1590. The temple has the bell that hung in the first Catholic Church in Japan, Nanban-ji founded in 1576 by the Jesuits. The temple kept the bell safe not only through this first persecution, but the abbot (the grandfather of the current vice-abbot) hid it again when the authorities would have confiscated it to melt down for weapons in WW II.
The vice-abbot showed us the bell and rang it for us after we told him that our first trip had been to a Jesuit retreat house. He also showed us some of the hidden Christian symbols in the gardens and on some of the screens. We often tend to think of interfaith relations as trying to find common ground or trying to convince the ground on one side or the other to shift. Here one faith enfolded and protected the other, giving ground for a seed to remain rooted.