For months the Japanese villagers close to the city of Nagasaki cautiously eyed the new building that was under construction. They noticed that some people from other countries who had come into the local harbor were also keenly observing its progress. It was an unusually shaped building. However, as it rose toward the sky, it slowly revealed itself to be a Christian church. This made some of them even more curious. A month after its completion, on March 17, 1865, they cautiously approached one of the foreign priests to inquire about his beliefs. Assured by what he told them, they responded joyfully, “Our hearts are the same as yours.”
What a momentous dawn that was for those Christian peasants! The long, dark night of vilifi cation and exile, of torture and crucifi xions that they and their ancestors had endured over the previous two hundred and fi fty years seemed at last to be giving way to the light of a new day. However, some dark clouds still remained on the horizon. The government decreed that the new church was not for its own people, but rather for the many foreigners that were engaged in international trade around the harbor, and so the persecution of Christians continued. Yet, daylight was to conquer darkness eventually when Japanese Catholics were given the freedom to build their own church nearby a decade later.
Like a seed, hidden in the dark earth in spring, sends out roots to gather moisture and nutrients for its future journey upwards to the daylight, the hidden Christians of Japan had rooted themselves deeply in their faith in order to be able to persevere on their long and arduous journey into the light. Throughout those dark and dreary decades of isolation from the rest of the world, many hidden Christians came to cherish dearly those invisible bonds of faith with which they remained united with other Christians around the world. Across the great silence of the centuries, they yearned for the day when they would be able to openly celebrate those bonds of communion with their brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere.
For the past sixty-fi ve years Columban missionaries have ministered in Japan, and though the culture, language and way of life there differ greatly from those of our home countries, through their fervent faith and hospitality, Japanese Christians continue to remind us that, “Our hearts are the same as yours.”