The Miracle of Japan's "Hidden Christians" Versus "proselytism is solemn nonsense"
by Christopher A. Ferrara
October 19, 2017
The Pope and Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s film “Silence,” which I have viewed, is based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, a semi-fictional account of two 17th-century Jesuit missionaries to Japan who apostatize under torture and became retainers of the shogunate (military dictatorship) that ruled Japan for centuries. The film is an evil piece of work that sympathetically portrays the apostasy of the fictional characters Father Ferreira and Father Rodrigues during waves of genocidal persecution of Japanese Catholics in that century, at the end of which all the faithful priests had been martyred or expelled from Japan and the remaining Catholics had been driven underground.
Naturally, the religious dilettantes and pseudo-intellectuals who now dominate the Vatican apparatus — the late great Father Vincent Micelli, S.J. called them “connoisseurs of ambiguity” — were so delighted with the film that they held a special Vatican screening, in connection with which Pope Francis told Scorsese that he hoped the film “would bear fruit.” The only fruit “Silence” will bear is the poisonous fruit of doubt: doubt about the necessity of the Faith for salvation, and doubt about the courageous witness of martyrdom evinced by Japanese lay Catholics at the same time two of their priests renounce Christ by stepping on an image of Him under duress.
Even the celebrity bishop Robert Barron, elevated by Pope Francis to the episcopate, criticized the film because it depicts what the world wants to see: “Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion,” whereas the lay martyrs who cling fiercely to their faith, even unto death, are depicted “as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright. Revisit Ferreira’s speech to Rodrigues about the supposedly simplistic Christianity of the Japanese laity if you doubt me on this score.”
But, Bishop Barron continues, while “the specially trained Ferreira and Rodrigues became paid lackeys of a tyrannical government, those simple folk remained a thorn in the side of the tyranny.” And, in the realm of true history, more than 250 years later the descendants of these hidden Catholics (known as the “Hidden Christians”) of Japan, some 10,000 in number, emerged with their faith miraculously intact, handed down as essentially an oral tradition. They had kept the faith without priests, without the sacraments (except lay-administered baptism) and without any contact with the outside world. And when Catholic priests finally returned to Japan during the reign of Pius IX — just as the legendary Japanese catechist by the name of Bastian had predicted they would “after seven generations” — the Hidden Christians had three questions to ask them, which Bastian had provided for the day of the priests’ return:
“Are you single?”
“What is the name of your leader in Rome?”
“Do you venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary?”
In an article by Shinzo Kawamura, S.J., republished by Sandro Magister, we learn that when the Hidden Christians encountered Father Bernard Petitjean, dispatched to Japan on a mission by Pius IX in 1867, they also wanted to know: “Where is the statue of Saint Mary?”
Why did the Hidden Christians keep their faith and pass it on for generation after generation? Because they had been converted by missionaries, the ones who went to martyrdom, who had taught them that outside the Church there is no salvation and that their sins could be forgiven through the ministry of the Church so that their souls could be saved. For more than two-and-a-half centuries the Hidden Christians, just as they had been instructed in a book entitled “Prayer and Contrition,” which they committed to memory and passed down orally, made acts of contrition in the hope that one day they would receive absolution from a priest acting in persona Christi. And that day finally came.
As Magister wryly observes, Scorsese’s film depicts a new paradigm according to which apostasy under torture is “identification with a ‘weak’ and ‘fragile’ Jesus, entirely different from and more true to life than the ‘heroic’ Jesus brought in by the first missionaries in Japan in deference to the ‘stereotypes’ of Western Catholicism. It is no mystery that this change of paradigm — under the banner of so-called ‘inculturation’ — is today upheld by large sectors of the Church and by Pope Francis himself…” Indeed, it was Francis himself who declared during the infamous interview with Eugenio Scalfari: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.”
As Magister concludes of this “new paradigm” of “dialogue” rather than overt efforts to win souls for Christ: “It is all too easy to intuit that such a paradigm – much less Protestantism… could ever have had the power to generate an ‘exceedingly Catholic’ miracle like that of the ‘hidden Christians.’”
At any rate, the example of the Hidden Christians ought to reassure us that not even a wayward hierarchy, nor even a wayward Pope, can remove the faith from the hearts of the people, much less destroy the Church. As the famous anecdote goes, Napoleon Bonaparte once threatened a curial cardinal that he could destroy the Church, whereupon the cardinal replied: “If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?”
Indeed, the Church’s indestructibility and the ultimate triumph of the Faith over all adversity belong to the essence of the Message of Fatima.