Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Knowing Pope Francis’ interest in the story of how Christianity survived in Japan despite centuries of persecution, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave Pope Francis a “makyoh” or “magic mirror.”
After a 20-minute private discussion in the papal library June 6, Abe took Pope Francis to the library window overlooking St. Peter’s Square to show him how, in direct light, a cross appears on the mirror. Clandestine Christians hung the mirrors in their houses or wore small versions of them on necklaces at a time when being a Christian was punishable by death.
Christianity was banned in Japan in 1626 and all priests and missionaries were expelled from the country. The faith was illegal for the next 250 years.
At one of his weekly general audiences in January, Pope Francis had used the story of Japanese Christians as an example and encouragement for Christians who find themselves the objects of persecution today.
While thousands of Christians were killed, he had said, those who were left went underground, praying and practicing the faith clandestinely.
When missionaries were allowed to return after more than two centuries, they found thousands of Christians ready to help the church blossom again, said the pope, who as a young Jesuit wanted to serve as a missionary in Japan, but was turned down because of concerns about his health.
Because there were no priests, mothers and fathers baptized their own babies, the pope said. “They maintained, even in secrecy, a strong spirit of community because baptism made them become one single body in Christ: They were isolated and hidden, but they were always members of the people of God, of the church.”