Pope Francis lauded the Church in Japan for its “apostolic approach” to the country’s culture through “faithful sowing” and “the witness of martyrs.”
The pontiff arrived in Japan late afternoon on Nov. 23 and immediately went to work by meeting with the country’s bishops.
He commended the church leaders for developing “a form of ecclesial presence that is for the most part much appreciated by Japanese society.”
Pope Francis said the Church’s “contributions to the common good” are now recognized as “a fruitful hope for every form of evangelization.”
He said the Church’s mission in Japan “was marked by a powerful search for inculturation and dialogue, which allowed the formation of new models.”
“We know that the Church in Japan is small, and Catholics are in a minority, but this must not diminish your commitment to evangelization,” he told the bishops.
“I encourage your efforts to ensure that the Catholic community in Japan offers a clear witness to the Gospel in the midst of the larger society,” he added.
He said the Church’s “highly respected educational apostolate represents a great resource for evangelization and engagement with larger intellectual and cultural currents.”
Recognizing the prospects of the propagation of faith, he urged the church leaders “to seek out and develop a mission capable of involving families.”
He said the starting point for every apostolate is “the concrete place in which people find themselves, with their daily routines and occupations.”
“It is there that we must reach the souls of our cities, workplaces, and universities, in order to accompany the faithful entrusted to us with the Gospel of compassion and mercy,” said Pope Francis.
He cited the Japanese Church’s dedication to the mission through its martyrs, recalling the martyrdom of St. Paul Miki and his companions and the life of Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon.
St. Paul Miki, a Japanese Jesuit who was killed while tied to a cross with his companions for preaching the Gospel during the persecution of Christians in 1597.
Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon, meanwhile, was a Catholic layman who was considered a pillar of the early Church of Japan. He died in Manila in 1615 after he was exiled for refusing to abjure his Catholic faith.
“Such self-sacrifice for the sake of keeping the faith alive amid persecution helped the small Christian community to develop, grow strong and bear fruit,” said Pope Francis.
He also mentioned the “hidden Christians” of Nagasaki who kept the faith for about 200 years since 1644 when the last Catholic priest in the country was killed.
The “hidden Christians” continued to gather secretly, instructed new members about the faith, and pray together.
“The path taken by the Lord shows us how his presence ‘plays out’ in the daily life of his faithful people, who seek ways to keep his memory alive,” said the pontiff.
The pope will pay tribute to the “hidden Christians” when he travels to Nagasaki on Nov. 24.
From Nagasaki, Pope Francis will visit Hiroshima and deliver a message at a peace memorial in the city that marks the dropping of the atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945.
On Nov. 24, the pontiff will also meet victims of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.