OnePeterFive has published an excellent article entitled “What Japan teaches about the invincibility of the faith” by Ken Foye, which provides a short history of the arrival of Christianity in Japan, the persecution of Christians, the expulsion of missionaries, the underground Catholic Church (composed of the laity who kept the Faith even without priests), and the return of the religious orders and open practice of Christianity in the late 1800s. The period of persecution lasted over 200 years and yet Japanese Christians managed to transmit their faith to their children and their grandchildren.
The secret devotion of Japanese Christians took surprising forms. Check out this statue of the Buddhist deity of compassion, Kannon.
You can find her in many Buddhist temples and shrines, but there’s one thing that makes this particular statue of Kannon very unusual – she is carrying a baby. Kannon is rarely ever depicted carrying a baby. This statue looks like the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child. Indeed, it probably is and she is known as Maria Kannon. What is that in her right hand? It looks like Buddhist prayer beads but it could also be a Rosary!
I came upon this statue, which I never noticed before, in a busy Buddhist shrine in Kyoto (which I have visited several times with friends and family who come to Kyoto). Most people just walk by it – including Buddhists from Japan and other countries – without giving it a second thought. Only someone who is well acquainted with statues of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus, will do a double take. Our Lady and Our Lord are right there in the middle of this Buddhist temple, hiding in plain view, watching over the faithful, a source of great comfort to Christians. This is the “creative trickery” that Ken Foye mentions in his article in OnePeterFive.
Today, Christians of every denomination practice their faith openly in Japan. Like Mr. Foye, I came back to the Catholic Church quite late, at the age of 56, after many decades away. It took a miracle to bring me back though so I cannot take credit for it. I, too, pray not just for Japanese Catholics, but for the Japanese people. Every time I go to Confession at my local church, Father always asks me to pray for Japan. I love this country and its people, who have been so hospitable and kind to me, and have gone out of their way many times to help me.
Here are a few sources about Japan’s hidden Christians and Maria Kannon: