Tomorrow Pope Francis will be in Nagasaki visiting the Japanese Martyrs Museum. For the director, Fr. Domenico Vitali, who has spent 55 years in Japan, the Museum is an important element in the history of the country: "The martyrs brought another vision of the world". In secular society, everyone is very busy: there is no time to educate children.
Nagasaki (AsiaNews) - "A new impetus in proclaiming the Gospel": This is the gift that Fr. Domenico Vitali, 82-year-old Jesuit originally from Macerata, expects from Pope Francis. Fr. Vitali has worked for over 55 years in Japan mainly in Tokyo and Hiroshima, and since May 2018 he is the director of the Nagasaki Martyrs Museum. The pontiff left Thailand this morning and is arriving in Japan, where he will remain until November 26th. Tomorrow, November 24th, in the morning he will visit the Martyrs Museum. This stands on the hill of Nishizaki and includes a real museum exhibition and a large chapel.
The museum houses unique historical finds on the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki (including Paolo Miki and some children who joyfully went to the crucifixion) and on the persecution against Christians lasting almost three centuries, up to the Meiji era (1868). In Nagasaki the famous "hidden Christians" were discovered, who for centuries passed their faith from father to son in secret, without churches or priests.
Fr. Vitali welcomes the many pilgrims who come to visit. Among the Japanese there are mainly students of Catholic schools; among the foreigners there are Koreans, Taiwanese, Chinese, .. Here is an exclusive interview that he gave to us on the eve of Pope Francis' arrival.
Father, what do you hope from this papal visit?
The Pope is the son of immigrants who arrived in Argentina. He lived this experience; he knows from experience the difficulties to adapt to a new country. One hope is that the Pope's visit will facilitate a greater opening towards immigrants, so that they will be seen not as a nuisance, a burden, but as people who can be integrated into Japanese society, who can help and be useful.
This is the first Pope to take the name of Francis. He was attracted by the perspective of Saint Francis who called everyone "brother" and "sister" and was the first to be friends with Muslims. No previous pope had dared to take this name because it involves a lot of responsibility. Call the sun "brother", the moon "the sister". But this applies not only to nature. This fraternity is a beauty that must be even more accentuated among all the people on earth.
What do you personally hope for?
I long for a new momentum in the spread of the Gospel here in Japan because it seems to me that we are a bit in decline. The Pope's first mission is to announce the Gospel of Our Lord, and this is also the first task we have as a Church in Japan. Therefore I expect a stimulus in this sense. The Church in Japan today is struggling to grow and I have the impression that the missionary momentum has diminished.
What does the martyrs' museum represent for Japan?
Japan does not see the history of martyrs as belonging to Japanese history; it does not consider it an important component of history, but sees it as something that came from the West and then disappeared. But it is an important element in Japanese history because the martyrs brought another vision of the world; they brought Christianity that teaches us to see things in a very different way.
The martyrs sacrificed their lives to be sincere to themselves. They are a testimony that we have a personal conscience to follow. They gave their lives for something that can be known through faith, for a God who is not a passing king, but the One who created everything.
And for the universal Church?
Martyrs are important to create the awareness that the Church was founded and exists for all peoples and nations. The martyrs of Nagasaki are a confirmation of the truth and authenticity of the faith not only in Roman times, at the time of Nero. For the same reasons as then the Japanese martyrs gave their lives. Therefore in Christianity it was not something passing, but lasting; it has proved true in the history of humanity.
Since the, the era of the martyrs, the Japanese Church seems to progress quite slowly and with great difficulty ...
With great slowness and fatigue because it does not sink its roots as deeply as it had before persecutions. Then there were almost more Christians than now. In the past few months there has been a change of emperor. The fact that the emperor is bound to Shinto affects Japan very deeply. This could be another reason why it is difficult for Christianity to enter Japan.
And the young people? Do they convert to Christianity?
Few young people convert to Christianity but that is also because the drive to educate them has been lost. We Jesuits, for example, had 4 colleges and more than 10 fathers lived in each college. Many Catholics and also vocations came out of the colleges.
Now there is only one father who works and teaches in the colleges and the people involved in the educational field are falling. Europe and America have also lost the sense of evangelizing and communicating Christianity to other countries.
Pope Francis dreamed of becoming a missionary in Japan, but could not (for health reasons). As a Pope, what impact does he have in this country?
He has had a great impact on the theme of peace and the atom bomb. Like previous popes, he has taken a clear position against the atomic bomb and nuclear weapons.
How can we live our faith in such an advanced and secularized society?
A secularized society does not appreciate spiritual and religious values. It is a very busy society: they all are, from the smallest to the largest. Even if they stay at home, they continue to use mobile phones, the internet, etc. Even in Christian families, children cannot be educated today.
The "hidden Christians" have instead educated their children for 250 years, and even in persecution they have managed to preserve the faith and educate their children at home.
I don't know if the Pope will touch on this subject of education, but it is very important.
The martyrs were also such as the fruit of this Christian education. They were educated at home and died in Tsuwano. In Tsuwano, Mori-chan (a 6-year-old girl) knew how to respond to the guards. These promised her that if she gave up Jesus Christ, they would give her sweets. Mori-chan replied: "I don't want your sweets because in heaven I will have better ones." To educate a 6-year-old girl in this way is almost impossible today: we can't do it.
But can Christians still be leaven in this society?
I think so, but we need help and we hope that the Pope will encourage us.