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Pinoy pilgrim in Nagasaki

Visiting Nagasaki with limited time meant choosing one of four historic routes offered by the city tourism office. Depending on your interest, you can visit: sites related to the destruction of Nagasaki by the second atomic bomb, after Hiroshima in 1945, that closed the Second World War in Asia; sites related to Nagasaki’s industrial heritage during the Meiji period, which Japan is pushing for recognition by Unesco; sites related to Nagasaki’s history of “Hidden Christians,” recently inscribed into the Unesco World Heritage roster; and, fourth, a church and museum on Nishizaka Hill commemorating the 26 Martyrs of Japan killed in a horrific way in 1597, marking the beginning of Christian persecution.

I had visited ground zero of the atomic blast on a previous trip, also the Peace Memorial and a museum that paints Japan as a victim of the atomic bomb, without mentioning its brutality in Southeast Asia during the war that made the bomb a necessity. Filipinos who remember the innocent noncombatants — men, women, the old, infirm and children — slaughtered by Japanese troops during the Battle for Manila in 1945 have little or no sympathy for the carnage unleashed by the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, taking this as retribution for the orgy of murder, rape, torture and looting endured by so many during the Japanese occupation.

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As Japan moves toward militarization — for self-defense, it says — long-buried war memories are being resurrected.

The Meiji industrial development I leave for a future visit, choosing Nagasaki cuisine instead over coal mining, shipbuilding, shipyards and even the first electric crane in Japan. The Hidden Christians is a long story that begins with the reopening of Japan, after a long period, to overseas trade in 1854. Catholic missionaries were allowed to return, and they built the Oura Cathedral within the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement. In 1865, a group of women from Urakami approached French priest Bernard Petitjean and told him, “We are of one heart with you.” They asked to see an image of the Virgin Mary, and said it was the first time they had seen one in their lives. They claimed to be Christians who had been in hiding from persecution for the last seven generations, and that their friends told them to stay away from the cathedral, this being a trap of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867) to catch remaining Christians.

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The Hidden Christians harbored their faith for two centuries without Catholic priests or the sacraments, creating a religion all their own. They took to Buddhist images, but saw a Christian meaning in them, as they did with Kannon (Guanyin in Chinese), the Goddess of Mercy, whom they saw as the Virgin Mary or “Maria Kannon.” Discreet symbols hidden in Buddhist images, or a physical cross hidden inside a Buddhist image, translated in their eyes into Christian imagery.

Bowing to Western pressure, Japan lifted the ban on Christianity in 1873. Yet many Hidden Christians did not rejoin the Church, and kept their unique mix of Buddhist-Shinto-Christian religion. One could say that Roman Catholicism as practiced in the Philippines has its own traditions, incorporating pre-Spanish beliefs and making of a foreign religion something uniquely our own. Indigenization is the academic term for it, which National Artist Kidlat Tahimik has reworked into “indio-genius.”

With Holy Week coming upon us, my trip to Nagasaki was part pilgrimage, to visit Nishizaka Hill, a steep 10-minute walk from the train station to a site commemorating the 26 Martyrs of Japan. It also happens to be the same place where Lorenzo Ruiz, Laurentius Ruiz Manilensis in the Catholic calendar, was executed in 1637. He was killed by “tsurushi,” a slow and painful way of execution that had him bound upside down, one hand tied tightly but the other left free to signal that he had had enough and would recant. Victims were lowered into a pit filled with excrement at the bottom and, to cause more suffering, an incision was made on the victim’s forehead to make blood pressure decrease during torture.

Lorenzo Ruiz’s famous last words were said to be “Ego Catholicus sum et animo prompto paratoque pro Deo mortem obibo. Si mille vitas haberem, cunctas ei offerrem” (I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for God. Had I a thousand lives, I would offer all these to Him).

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TAGS: Amberth Ocampo, atomic bomb ground zero, Looking Back, Lorenzo ruiz, Nagasaki
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