Japan

Roman Catholicism, the second advent: 1859-1910

Following the severe persecutions of the Roman Catholic Church in the early seventeenth century at the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1868), the surviving Christians went underground, forming groups known latterly as Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians). The Treaty of Commerce and Friendship which Japan concluded with France in 1858 permitted the arrival in 1859 of the first Roman Catholic missionary priest to Japan since the beginning of the shogunate. Fr Prudence-Seraphim-Barthelemy Girard was a member of the Societe des Missions Etrangeres de Paris (SMEP) to which the Vatican had assigned the mission work in Japan, as it had in Korea. Fr Girard was followed soon afterwards by other French priests and nuns, as well as a number of Protestant missionaries from Europe and North America. In 1865, the construction of the first Roman Catholic church in Nagasaki, scene of some of the most severe persecutions of the church in the seventeenth century, led to the discovery of some 20,000 Hidden Christians. The overthrow of the shogunate in 1868 and establishment of a new regime under the Meiji Emperor bent on the modernisation ofJapan created conditions that led in 1873 to the removal of anti-Christian edicts promulgated in the early years of the Tokugawa period. By that year, 14,000 of the Hidden Christians had rejoined the Roman Catholic Church. In 1876, the Vatican divided the Japanese mission into two vicariates apostolic, one each for northern and southern Japan. The next decade and a half, until 1890, was a period of quiet growth in circumstances of general tolerance and acceptance of the work of the church's missionaries. The continued success of the SMEP mission is indicated by the fact that within twelve years' time, by 1888, the Japan mission was divided again, with the creation of a third vicariate apostolic in central Japan, followed within three years by the creation of a local episcopal hierarchy, with the bishop of Tokyo created as the archbishop over the whole Japanese ecclesiastical structure in 1891.

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