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Christian Missions To Asia And Japan

St. Francis Xavier was born into the first generation of human beings who truly had a global view of the World and at the beginning of the 16th century which was the first century of the Modern Era and of the Globalization of trade. The story of the patron saint of Christian missions to Asia and Japan is set in a historical background the richness of which few people have understood or fully appreciated.

Francis Xavier, born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta, was a Basque. (The Basques are a people from the region of Biscay in northern Spain, whose language is unrelated to any other known language.) He was born in 1506 and studied at the University of Paris, where he met Ignatius Loyola and joined together with him and five others in dedicating their lives to the will and service of God, and forming the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1534.

In 1541 Francis sailed with two companions from Portugal to the Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India (arriving in May 1542), where he set about learning the language and writing a catechism for the instruction of converts.

He visited the prisons and the hospitals, conducted worship services among the lepers, and walked the streets ringing a bell to call the children for religious instruction. His chief method of instructing the people was to write verses in their language setting forth the truths of the Christian faith, and set them to music. Both words and tunes tended to be "catchy," and his doggerel instructions were extremely popular and were sung everywhere. He preached tirelessly, both to the native peoples and to the Europeans living there.

Francis found to his dismay that the Portuguese settlers and soldiers of the colony were brutal in their treatment of the natives, and that, even aside from this, their manner of life did not commend their nominal faith to the native observer. He wrote boldly to the King of Portugal to complain: "It is possible that when our Lord God calls your Highness to his Judgement that your Highness may hear angry words from him: "Why did you not punish those who were your subjects and owned your authority, and were enemies to me in India?'"

After five months in Goa, Francis went to the east coast of India, near Sri Lanka (Ceylon), where he preached to a people called the Paravas, with considerable success until the ruler of Jaffna in northern Ceylon became alarmed and suppressed his mission by force.

Throughout most of 1545 to 1547, Francis preached in Malacca (another Portuguese possession) and other places on or near the Malay Peninsula. Here he encountered a Japanese expatriate (Anjiro, later baptized as Paul), and became interested in the possibility of a Japanese mission. After a brief return to Goa, he set out for Japan with another Jesuit priest and three Japanese converts. Here he learned the language, wrote a catechism, and preached. The authorities welcomed him in some towns and prevented him from teaching in others. Altogether Francis, the first to preach the Gospel in Japan, made perhaps 2000 converts there.

He then determined to carry the Gospel to China, at that time closed to outsiders. He bribed a ship's captain to smuggle him into the country, but had barely arrived there when he was stricken with fever and died on 3 December 1552. His body was brought back to Goa and buried there.

By all acounts, he was a man who preached the Gospel with tireless energy, and with great power and effectiveness. Estimates of the number of converts that he personally baptized vary, but some of them are in the six-digit range. One biographer says that he preached to more persons than anyone else since New Testament times.

Francis wrote as follows in a letter to Ignatius: Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going around the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and crying out to the scholars: "What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven, thanks to you!" This thought would certainly stir most of them to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires and give themselves over entirely to God's will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: "Lord, here am I! Send me. Send me anywhere you like -- even to India!"

After the first landing of Portuguese sailors in Japan in 1542, Christian proselyting led by Francisco Xavier started. In the following decades, many thousands of Japanese, including some princes' families, converted to Roman Catholicism in the form known as Kirishitan with the cooperation of the central government forming at that time. Toyotomi Hideyoshi formally expelled the missionaries from the country in 1587, since he saw the influence of Jesuite, but above all Franciscan, monks as a threat to his position of power but missionaries continued to enter. For economic reasons, however, this decree was hardly enforced. Not until 1597, a year before Hideyoshi's death, were 26 Christians crucified.

Six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys -. were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki on the orders of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears. Persecution continued sporadically, breaking out again in 1613 and 1630. On September 10, 1632, 55 Christians were martyred in Nagasaki in what became known as the Great Genna Martyrdom. At this time Catholicism was officially outlawed. The Church remained without clergy and theological teaching disintegrated until the arrival of Western missionaries in the nineteenth century.

While there were many more martyrs, the first martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of which was Paul Miki. The Martyrs of Japan were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church on June 8, 1862 by Blessed Pius IX, and are listed on the calendar as Sts. Paul Miki and his Companions, commemorated on February 6, February 5, the date of their death, being the feast of Saint Agatha. They were included in the General Roman Calendar for the first time in 1969; accordingly those who observe the universal versions of earlier calendars, such as the General Roman Calendar of 1962, the General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII, the General Roman Calendar as in 1954 and, of course, the Tridentine Calendar, in which these saints do not appear, give them no liturgical veneration. They are, however, provided with their own Mass texts (Collect, Secret and Postcommunion) under February 13 - the first Feria after the date of their martyrdom - in the pro aliquibus locis section of missals used by those observing the General Roman Calendar of 1962.

Christian missionaries continued to pour into Asia during the 16th century. Matteo Ricci became well known for spreading Christianity in China, for his skills in mathematics and art and for his love of Chinese culture. An Italian Jesuit missionary he was the best-known Jesuit and European in China prior to the 20th century. Born at Macerata on Oct. 6, 1552, Matteo Ricci went to Rome in 1568 to study law. In 1571 he entered the Society of Jesus. After studying mathematics and geography at a Roman college, he set out for Goa in 1577 and was ordained there in 1580. In 1582 he was dispatched to Macao and started to learn Chinese.

Soon after the Jesuits established themselves at Chaoch'ing west of Canton, Ricci and a fellow Jesuit, Michele Ruggieri, went there on Sept. 10, 1583. When the Chinese governor general ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1589, Ricci managed to acquire a place in Shaochou, north of Kwangtung, where he soon established amicable relations with the officials and with members of the educated elite.

Ricci's ambition, however, was to go to Peking and establish himself in the imperial capital. Early in 1595 he set out to the north but was halted in Nanking, as all foreigners were held under suspicion following the Japanese invasion of Korea; hence he retreated to Nanchang, Kiangsi. In 1598 he found another opportunity to go north when the Nanking minister of rites, Wang Hunghui, expressed willingness to escort him. They reached the gates of Peking but were again turned back due to the Sino-Japanese conflict. Ricci thereafter settled in Nanking, where he received warm welcome from the literate as a result of his broad knowledge of the Western sciences and deep understanding of the Chinese classics.

Ricci and his escort made another effort to go to Peking in 1600, but their entrance was delayed by the intrigue of the eunuch Ma T'ang, who had tried to take possession of the gifts brought for the Ming emperor. Eventually they arrived at the capital on Jan. 24, 1601, and subsequently received a warm welcome from the Emperor. This imperial favor provided Ricci with an opportunity to meet the leading officials and literati in Peking, some of whom later became Christian converts.

Finally, Ricci obtained a settlement with an allowance for subsistence in Peking, after which his reputation among the Chinese increased. Besides the missionary and scientific work, from 1596 on he was also superior of the missions, which in 1605 numbered 17. When he died on May 11, 1610, he was granted a place for burial in Peking. Some of the outstanding Chinese literati with whom Ricci had contact later became his converts, including the famous scholar-officials Hsü Kuang-ch'i, Li Chih-ts'ao, and Yang T'ing-yün. Ricci's writings include about 20 titles, mostly in Chinese, ranging from religious and scientific works to treatises on friendship and local memory. The most famous of these are the Mappamondo (World Map) and the True Idea of God.

Ricci owed his success, apart from his personality and learning, largely to his "accommodation method"-an attempt to harmonize the Christian doctrine with the Chinese tradition, which laid the foundation of the subsequent success of the Roman Catholic Church in China. Though the unhappy rites controversy (ca. 1635-1742) brought the mission to near ruin, the name of Ricci and his work left an indelible imprint on subsequent Chinese history.

Robert Morrison (1782-1834), a Congregationalist minister who was the first Protestant missionary to China, and a pioneer in the task of translating the Scriptures into Chinese. One of the missionaries who worked with Morrison was the German Lutheran Karl Guetzlaff (1803-1851), who helped to arouse European concern for missionary work in Asia, and through whose preaching Hudson Taylor was called to missionary work.

James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) founded the China Inland Mission, an interdenominational undertaking, to preach the Gospel in the interior of China. (Most previous missionary work had concentrated on the coastal area where contact between Chinese and foreign merchants and sailors was relatively common.) Taylor adopted Chinese dress and sought the growth of indigenous churches as opposed to missionary outposts under the supervision of Europeans.



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