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Nagasaki Pilgrimage Story #1: 7 Generations of Hidden Hope

December 5, 2014
Mural of discovery of hidden Christians at Oura Church

Mural of discovery of hidden Christians at Oura Church

Two critical question of missional discernment are: Where is God already at work? What does hope look like?

On our recent pilgrimage of pain and hope in Nagasaki, over dinner, we encountered a remarkable sign of hope: Joseph Takami, the Archbishop of Nagasaki. Takami is a direct descendent of Japan’s “hidden Christians.” In the contemporary imagination of immediacy and visible change, I was struck by how much this story has to teach the church about a theology of hope.

Christianity came to Japan via Nagasaki, amid intense persecution (Shūsaku Endō’s novel Silence tells this story). We visited a martyrs hill where 26 Christians were crucified together after a 400-mile forced march from Kobe (to warn the public). Those crucified were a “new we”: not only Japanese, but also European, Mexican, both women and men, from a 12-year old boy to a 64-year old grandfather.

Pilgrim group with Archbishop Takami

Pilgrim group with Archbishop Takami

This severe persecution appeared to crush out Christianity. Indeed, for 250 years it was believed Christianity had disappeared. Yet 7 generations after the persecution, Christians re-emerged from hiding. Without clergy or public worship, in complete hiding, they kept the faith alive. Archbishop Takami is a direct descendent of these “hidden Christians.”

Here is what most of us Americans do not know: when the atomic bomb was dropped by the U.S. military on Nagasaki in 1945, it hit almost directly on the Catholic cathedral and the area where most of Nagasaki’s Christians lived, the descendants of the hidden Christians. Eight thousand of the 12,000 Christians died.

Takami was in his pregnant mother’s womb that August day when his mother was almost killed. The faith of his ancestors survived persecution, his mother survived the bomb, and today Takami is a leading voice for peace, including an annual gathering of Catholic bishops from Japan and South Korea.

2015 marks not only the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb but the 150th year since the discovery of the hidden Christians.

(The churches and Christian sites of Nagasaki are a candidate for a World Heritage Site, and there is a beautiful pamphlet of photos and stories on this web site.)

Previous post on the Nagasaki Pilgrimage:

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