MANILA, March 1, 2015—Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo will be flying to Nagasaki this March to represent no less than Pope Francis during the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the “Hidden Christians of Japan.”
According to the Vatican Information Service (VIS), the Holy Father has chosen the Mindanao-based Cardinal to be his special envoy to the celebrations that will be held from March 14 to 17. The assignment was made official during Pope Francis’ visit in the Philippines last month.
Jesuit missionaries, led by St. Francis Xavier, were the first to arrive in Japan in the 1650s. Franciscan missionaries followed by the end of the 16th century but they were faced with persecution when Japanese authorities banned Christianity and started executing Christians in Nagasaki, including St. Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila.
The persecution of Christians forced the faithful to practice their beliefs underground. “Hidden Christians” translates to “Kakure Kirishitan” in Japanese. Only after the Meiji Restoration in 1873 was freedom of religion promulgated. Presently, Christians account for less than 1 percent of the Japanese population.
Referring to the Hidden Christians of Japan, Pope Francis said: “There were many martyrs, members of the clergy were expelled and thousands of people were killed. Not a single priest was left in Japan: they were all expelled. The community then went underground, keeping the faith and prayer in hiding.”
The Pope added that when a Japanese child was born, “the father or the mother baptized him, because we can all baptize. When, after about two and a half centuries – 250 years later – the missionaries returned to Japan, thousands of Christians came out of hiding and the Church could flourish. It had survived by the grace of their baptism.” (CBCP News)