The pilgrimage to Nagasaki and Akita in Japan
The annual pilgrimage of the faithful from Asia to the Akita, Japan was held from 29 April to 8 May 2016. This year, the pilgrims also visited Nagasaki — the city where St. Maximilian founded City of Immaculata (Mugenzai no Sono).
Faithful from Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, USA, Germany, Switzerland and Poland (whole group — approx. 100 people) attended the pilgrimage.
Three priests attended to the spiritual needs of the pilgrims during this pilgrimage; Father Karl Stehlin — District Superior of Asia; Father Thomas Onoda — Prior in Manila (Philippines) and missionary priest in Japan; Father Peter Fortin — Principal of Primary School and High School in Manila (Philippines).
The pilgrimage began in Nagasaki. Each day of pilgrimage began with the High Mass. The Holy Mass was celebrated by Rev. Father Karl Stehlin, District Superior of Asia. After Holy Mass daily, Father Karl Stehlin preached a conference. Each conference was a good spiritual preparation for pilgrims visiting places of martyrdom in Nagasaki and places of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe.
Nagasaki — “Little Rome”
When Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492, Portugal was establishing a new route to Asia via the Cape of Good Hope on the southern coast of Africa. By the early 16th century Portugal had established trading posts in Goa, Malacca and Macau, and in 1543 Japan had its first direct contact with the West when a Portuguese ship drifted off course and landed on Tanegashima Island.
Francis Xavier, one of the co-founders of the Society of Jesus, heard about the newly discovered island of Japan and its people's strong curiosity in new ideas from Anjiro, a Japanese person he met in Malacca, and decided to begin a mission in Japan.
Christianity was introduced to Japan for the first time when Xavier landed in Kagoshima in 1549. The following year, Xavier proselytized on the island of Hirado and also visited Kyoto (via Yamaguchi), which was the capital of Japan at that time. Following Xavier, many missionaries from the Society of Jesus and other religious orders came to Japan. They strove to understand the Japanese language, culture, and customs, and converted many Japanese to Christianity, partly through their work in hospitals and their engagement in other forms of Christian charity work. Christianity thus spread throughout Japan, and especially throughout western Japan. In the Nagasaki region, many people converted to Christianity in trading ports such as Hirado, Yokoseura, Kuchinotsu, Amakusa and Nagasaki, as well as in the Goto islands.
As a result, Nagasaki developed into a thriving Christian center, studded with more than 10 churches and hospitals at the peak of activity, tolerated by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and known to traders as "Little Rome."
The first day in Nagasaki
First day in Nagasaki: Pilgrims visited the place of the First Martyrs of Japan. The Nishizaka Hill is a place where six Franciscan missionaries and twenty Japanese lay faithful were executed on February 5, 1597 under the ban of Christianity ordered by Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
St. Maximilian frequently visited and prayed there.
Pilgrims also visited the museum dedicated to the 26 Martyrs of Japan. The museum preserved many unique souvenirs from the time of the first Christians in Japan, including prayer books and Latin Missals. We could also see the original letter by St. Francis Xavier. After leaving the museum and taking commemorative pictures in front of a monument of 26 Martyrs of Japan, we met a group from Poland. We sang together two traditional Polish songs: "Appeal of Jasna Góra" and "Mother of God", which were in our pilgrim songbook. Both songs were intoned Father Thomas Onoda, who came to the SSPX pilgrimage to Czestochowa in Poland three years ago.
The second day in Nagasaki
During second day in Nagasaki pilgrims visited Unzen Hell.
Pilgrims visited the Christian Museum in Shimabara Castle. Afterwards, pilgrims also went to the Ariake Sea, where many Japanese Christians were thrown into the sea from the boats in which they were transported from many places in Japan.
At each site of martyrdom, which we visited, we prayed a decade of the rosary.
The third day in Nagasaki
During third day in Nagasaki pilgrims visited Atomic Bomb Museum. A preserved fragment of the front wall of the Urakami Cathedral after the explosion of a nuclear bomb in 9th of August 1945 featured in that museum. Among the few things preserved from the cathedral after a bomb we could see destroyed rosaries. At the time of the explosion, at Urakami Cathedral, which was located 500 meters from the epicenter of the outbreak, two priests were hearing confessions. There was many people praying after confession and a lot of people waiting for confession. Rosaries presented in the museum are rosaries from these people.
After visiting the museum pilgrims went to a nearby park, where also is standing a small fragment of a wall of Urakami Cathedral. We sang there a Litany of Loreto.
On this day we also visited the small house of Dr. Takashi Nagai, who selflessly helped his countrymen after the bomb explosion. This doctor and his wife were Catholics. Before World War II, and during it, the doctor dealt with radiology. He also met St. Maximilian and gave him a medical examination. (Doctor overexposed his lungs. St. Maximilian suffered from tuberculosis). Shortly before the bomb explosion, in June 1945 he learned that he had leukemia and had three years of life.
On September 20, 1945 Dr. Nagai received the sacraments of extreme unction and confession from Fr. Tagawa. Dr. Nagai heard the voice “Ask the intercession to St. Maximilian Kolbe”. He went to the grotto of Lourdes in Mugenzai no Sono and asked St. Maximilian for intercession in Our Lady, extend his life. According that previous voice he drunk some water of Lourdes from Mugenzai no Sono. The request of the Doctor was heard, and he lived for six years.
On the day of the explosion of the atomic bomb (9 August 1945) he was in the hospital, his wife at home, where she died.
Here's what he says about her death: "I returned to the site of my house. It was an expanse of ashes, but I found her immediately. A black lump lay Midori rising to heaven on the spot where the kitchen had been, the charred (to Dr. Nagai) remains of the pelvis and spine left by the all-consuming fire. A rosary with a cross was lying nearby”. The doctor lay in bed for 5 years due to illness. At that time, when he was struggling with a huge physical suffering, he wrote 17 books while bedridden He died in 1951.
Dr. Paul Nagai's Funeral address at a Mass for the Victims of Nagasaki Atomic Bomb:
“(…) Together with these two thousand members of the victimsʼ families, who hold eight thousand small white crosses, we pray that through Godʼs mercy and by the merits obtained through this mass, you will be purified by purgatorial fire and quickly go to heaven. Praise God Almighty for every work He has done! Let us give thanks that Urakami church was chosen from throughout the world to be a sacrifice burned whole on the altar. Let us give thanks that through this sacrifice of Urakami peace was restored in the world and freedom of religion was given to Japan. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
The fourth day in Nagasaki
At the start of the fourth day of the pilgrimage, Father Karl Stehlin related the story of the life of St. Maximilian until his departure from Poland to the missions in 1930. During this day in Nagasaki pilgrims visited O’ura Cathedral — the place, where in 1865, a group of 'Hidden Christians' visited in order to confess their faith. This stunning and moving discovery of Christians who had practiced their religion in secret for 250 years was reported to the world.
In O’ura Cathedral pilgrims prayed before statue of Holy Mother and Child, which is also called a statue of Our Lady of the Discovery of Christians. St. Maximilian also prayed before this statue frequently.
There is a seminary next to the O'ura Cathedral in which St. Maximilian conducted lectures in philosophy. The local Bishop Hayasaka was looking for a philosophy lecturers and he offered a lecturer post to St. Maximilian. In exchange, St. Maximilian could immediately publish Japanese "Knight" and commission translations and administrative matters to the students and Japanese clerics.
Today, there is the St. Kolbe Museum, where a huge hall is dedicated to St. Maximilian. Beautiful exhibition presents the life and activity of St. Maximilian. Pilgrims viewed with great interest the first numbers of "Mugenzai no Sono no Kishi" in Japanese. Events associated with the martyrdom of St. Maximilian were also displayed.
Then we went to a small house, which was, for the first 9 months in Japan, rented by St. Maximilian. Over there, St Maximilian already installed a printing machine and printed "Mugenzai no Sono no Kishi". Unfortunately, what remained of the original house was only the big brick chimney preserved. The original wooden walls of the house could not last in the humid climate of Nagasaki. New wooden walls were rebuilt at the end of the last century.
It was at this very same house where Father Stehlin continued the story about St. Maximilian. St. Maximilian, chose Japan as the country most prepared to accept the word of God as the destination of his first foreign mission.
St. Maximilian wrote about Japanese people in 1932:
“The Japanese society treats us with the growing sympathy. They understand us more and more, and even recently they do not collect a duty from articles which the Polish Niepokalanów sends, because they consider us as poor monks, working for the good of Japanese men. Pagans assists us with offerings in kind, and even do not hesitate to lend a large sum if necessary without the per cent and without formalities guaranteeing the return. On these days pagan daily newspaper sent to us even two correspondents which in three subsequent numbers very favorably described our way of life, emphasizing its excellence, compared with the pagan life in some cases. This again intensified the favour for us from pagans.”
Then the pilgrims went to Mugenzai no Sono — place which was founded by St. Maximilian in 1931. Mugenzai no Sono is located on a steep, scenic mountain. Of all the wooden buildings built by St. Maximilian and his brothers, only the cell of St. Maximilian is left. The entire complex has been rebuilt, as mentioned earlier how wooden buildings could not last for long in the humid climate of Nagasaki. However, the printing machines, printing fonts and all the numbers of "Mugenzai no Sono no Kishi" have been preserved in excellent condition.
The museum contains also the original notes and letters of St. Maximilian, among others, his letter concerning the purchase of land for the Indian Niepokalanów in Colombo and a letter with the date of 10th of September 1940 written in Poland and sent to the Japanese Niepokalanów.
The letter treats, among others, about the need of prayer:
"And when will Chinese Niepokalanów rise in Shanghai? When in Annas? When will Immaculate fulfill those dreams, that representatives of the Far East using kanji in seminary in Nagasaki prepare to raise the souls of their countrymen for the love of God in the Immaculate Conception? Let Her set deadlines, and let us pray for that time to come sooner. Because really, prayer is the most undervalued, but the most powerful means to restore peace in the souls, to give them luck, to bring them closer to God's love. Prayer will rebirth the world. Prayer is an indispensable condition of rebirth and life of every soul. Through prayer, St. Theresa, without leaving the walls of her cloister, became the patroness of all missions and not a titular only as our experience shows.
Let us pray also, and pray well, pray a lot verbally, and mentally, and we will experience, how the Immaculate will be increasingly mastering our soul, how more and more in every way we will be becoming Her, how guilt and weaken defects will be disappearing, how gently and powerfully we will approach to be closer to God”.
In Mugenzai no Sono pilgrims also visited a beautiful grotto of Lourdes. The grotto was built by St. Maximilian and his confreres. In this cave in 1945, Dr. Takashi Nagai prayed for a prolongation of his life. He already knew about the martyrdom of St. Maximilian.
In the church we could see the relic of St. Maximilian — hair from his beard. As previously mentioned Mugenzai no Sono is situated on a steep mountain. Moving between buildings or going to the Grotto of Lourdes, one has to overcome steep slopes. With how a great effort St. Maximilian had to do it, as he was chronically ill and breathing only on one lung.
During the mission of St. Maximilian in Nagasaki, the number of Catholics doubled in Japan. It was a great grace to touch a ground, after which he walked and he worked on. Every day there was a sunny weather in Nagasaki, which was an unprecedented event, as it often rains in Nagasaki. And on the final day, torrential rains bid the pilgrims farewell before the pilgrims flew to Akita.
Akita — Apparition of Our Lady
Pilgrims arrived to Akita on May 3 in the evening. Each day of pilgrimage began with the High Mass and after Father Karl Stehlin preached retreats about Mother of Mercy. All conferences we will publish soon.
In every afternoon pilgrims visited convent known as the Institute of the Handmaids of the Holy Eucharist. Akita is famous for the apparition of Our Lady.
Pilgrims on the way to the convent praying the Holy Rosary.
In the chapel of the convent we prayed Holy Rosary before the statue of Our Lady and we sang in honour of Our Lady. After returning from the convent every day, Father Stehlin preached one more conference. We had adoration Blessed Sacrament of First Friday.
Upon the pilgrimage Father Stehlin accepted 10 new Knights of the Immaculata.
Pilgrims departed from Akita on May 8, 2016. The time of the pilgrimage was very good to deepen the knowledge about Immaculata and St. Maximilian, and above all the pilgrimage contributed to the spiritual growth as a knight and a child of Mary.
Special thanks go to Father Thomas Onoda and the Japanese faithful for the perfect organization of the pilgrimage. We are especially grateful for their kindness and generosity.
Deo per Immaculatam gratias!
The group of pilgrims before monument of First Martyrs of Japan
Solemn Mass on Sunday in Nagasaki (May 1, 2016)
A preserved fragment of the front wall of the Urakami Cathedral after the explosion of a nuclear bomb
Pilgrims in front of the O’ura Cathedral
In O’ura Cathedral pilgrims prayed before statue of Our Lady of the Discovery of Christians. St. Maximilian also prayed before this statue
The seminary in which St. Maximilian conducted lectures in philosophy
The exhibition presents the life and activity of St. Maximilian
Pilgrims viewed with great interest the first numbers of "Mugenzai no Sono no Kishi" in Japanese
Pilgrims in a small house, which was, for the first 9 months in Japan, rented by St. Maximilian
Unfortunately, what remained of the original house was only the big brick chimney preserved
The image of the Immaculate before preserved the chimney
Mugenzai no Sono — a huge hall is dedicated to St. Maximilian
The entrance to office of St. Maximilian
The office of St. Maximilian
St. Maximilian in his office
Father Stehlin explained Act of consecration by St. Maximilian in the Grotto of Lourdes
Pilgrims’ Rosary Prayed in Grotto of Lourdes
Pilgrims on the way to the convent
The prayer in the chapel in the convent
Holy Mass in Akita
The joint photograph before the convent
Fr. Stehlin accepted 10 new Knights of the Immaculata