Pope Francis said that when he recalls the Church in Japan, his “thought runs to the witness of so many Martyrs, who offered their life for the faith.” His comments came in a letter to the bishops of Japan during the pastoral visit of Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People, September 17-26, 2017.
He went on to encourage the bishops to provide “solid and integral priestly and religious formation.” And he noted the role that can be played by “the Ecclesial Movements approved by the Apostolic See. With their evangelizing impulse and testimony, they can be of help in pastoral service and in the missio ad gentes.”
Here is a ZENIT translation of the Holy Father Francis’ Letter to the Bishops of Japan, on the occasion of the pastoral visit of Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (September 17-26, 2017).
The Holy Father’s Letter
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, the pastoral visit of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, offers me the opportunity to have my warm greeting reach you, mindful of our meeting that happened on the occasion of your visit ad Limina in March 2015.
I wish to confide to you that, every time I think of the Church in Japan, my thought runs to the witness of so many Martyrs, who offered their life for the faith. They have always had a special place in my heart: I think of Saint Paul Miki and his companions, who in 1597 were immolated, faithful to Christ and to the Church; I think of the innumerable Confessors of the faith, of Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon, who in the same period preferred poverty and the way of exile rather than abjure the name of Jesus. And what to say of the so-called “hidden Christians,” who from 1600 to the middle of the 1800s lived in clandestinity not to abjure but to keep their faith, of which we recently recalled the 150th anniversary of the discovery? The long list of Martyrs and Confessors of the faith, by nationality, language, social class and age, had in common a profound love for the Son of God, renouncing either their own civil status or other aspects of their social condition, all “for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
Mindful of such spiritual patrimony, it is dear to me to address you, Brothers, who have inherited it and who with delicate solicitude continue the task of evangelization, especially by taking care of the weakest and fostering the integration in the communities of the faithful of various provinces. I want to thank you for this, as well as for your commitment to cultural <and> inter-religious dialogue and to the care of Creation. In particular, I wish to reflect with you on the missionary commitment of the Church in Japan. “If the Church is born catholic (namely, universal) it means that it was born “outbound,” that she was born missionary” (General Audience of 17.9.2014). In fact, “the love of Christ compels” us (2 Corinthians 5:14) to offer our life for the Gospel. Such dynamism dies if we lose the missionary enthusiasm. Therefore, “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy the most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 10).
I pause on the discourse on the mountain, in which Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth; [. . .] You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). Salt and light are related to a service. The Church in as much as salt has the task to preserve from corruption and to give flavour; in as much as light she impedes the darkness from prevailing, ensuring a clear vision about the reality and end of existence. These words are also a strong call to fidelity and authenticity, namely, it’s necessary that salt truly give flavour and light overcome darkness. The Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus speaks of it, appears initially with the poverty of a bit of leaven or a small seed; this symbolism reproduces well the present situation of the Church in the context of the Japanese world. Jesus has entrusted to her a great spiritual and moral mission. I know well that not a few difficulties exist because of the lack of clergy, of men and women religious and the limited participation of the lay faithful. However, the scarcity of labourers cannot reduce the commitment to evangelization; rather, it is the occasion that stimulates to seek it incessantly, as the householder of the vineyard does who goes out at all hours to find new labourers for his vineyard (Cf. Matthew 20:1-7).
Dear Brothers, the challenges that the present reality puts before you cannot make you resigned and even less so return to an irenic and paralyzing dialogue, even if some problematic situations arouse not a few preoccupations: I am referring, for instance, to the high rate of divorces, of suicides even among young people, to persons that choose to live totally detached from social life (hikikomori), to religious and spiritual formalism, to moral relativism, to religious indifference, to the obsession for work and earnings. It’s also true that a society that runs in economic development also creates among you the marginalized, the excluded. I am thinking not only of those that are materially so, but also of those that are so spiritually and morally. In this very peculiar context, the need is urgent for the Church in Japan to renew constantly the choice for Jesus’ mission and to be salt and light. The genuine evangelizing strength of your Church, which comes to her also from having been a Church of Martyrs and Confessors of the faith, is a great good to guard and develop.
In this connection, I would like to stress the necessity of a, a particularly urgent task today, especially because of the spread of the “disposable culture” (Meeting with Seminarians, and Men and Women Novices, 6.7.2013). Such a mentality leads young people, especially, to think that it’s not possible to truly love, that there is nothing stable and that everything, including love, is relative to the circumstances and the needs of sentiment. Therefore, a more important step in priestly and religious formation is to help those that undertake such a course to understand and experience in depth the characteristics of the love taught by Jesus, which is gratuitous, entails the sacrifice of oneself, and merciful forgiveness. This experience renders one capable of going against the current and of trusting the Lord, who doesn’t disappoint. It is the witness of which Japanese society has so much thirst.
I want to say a word again on the Ecclesial Movements approved by the Apostolic See. With their evangelizing impulse and testimony, they can be of help in pastoral service and in the missio ad gentes. In fact, in the last decades the Holy Spirit has aroused and arouses in the Church men and women that intend, with their participation, to vivify the world in which they operate, and, not rarely, involving priests and Religious, they being also members of that People that God called to live fully their missionary nature. Such realities contribute to the work of evangelization. As Bishops, we are called to know and to accompany the charisms of which they are bearers, and to make them participants in our work in the context of pastoral integration.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I entrust each one of you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and I assure you of my closeness and prayer. May the Lord send labourers to His Church in Japan and support you with His consolation. Thank you for your ecclesial service. I extend upon you, upon the Church in Japan and its noble people my Apostolic Blessing, while I ask you not to forget me in your prayers.
From the Vatican, September 14, 2017, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation, Virginia M. Forrester]