From March 14 to 17, 2015 Catholics in Japan celebrate the 150th anniversary of the discovery of clandestine Catholics who hid themselves to preserve the faith after experiencing severe persecution.
Christianity arrived in Japan in the sixteenth century with the missionary endeavors of Saint Francis Xavier, S.J. In the late sixteenth century, however, violent persecutions erupted forcing Christians to go underground. Saint Paul MIKI and his companions were martyred at that time, in 1597. With fierce determination the Catholic converts survived the persecution by hiding themselves away and even baptizing their own children.
It was only in the mid-nineteenth century that the Japanese government permitted Christian missionaries to return. In 1846 Pope Pius IX named a young French missionary, a member of MEP, Father Théodore-Augustin FORCADE, as the first bishop of Japan. Difficult conditions in Japan prevented him from exercising his episcopal ministry there, and so he became the first bishop of Hong Kong, and then in 1853 bishop of the island of Guadalupe.
On March 17, 1865, two missionaries from France, members of the Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP), met these Christians and learned of their remarkable story. This led to the construction of the oldest church in Japan, the chapel of Oura near Nagasaki, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Pope Francis named the Philippine Cardinal Orlando QUEVEDO, Archbishop of Cotabato, as his special envoy to the celebration, which will be led by Sulpician Mgr Joseph TAKAMI, PSS, Archbishop of Nagasaki.
Representing the French bishops at the celebration are Mgr Jean-Yves RIOCREUX, Bishop of Basse-Terre (Guadalupe) and Mgr Benoît RIVIÈRE, Bishop of Autun, home diocese of another member of MEP. They will accompany the Superior General of the Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP), Father Georges COLOMB.