Rome (AsiaNews) - The agreement between the Vatican Library and the Japanese government to translate and inventory the Marega Papers "is important not only for Catholics, but also from a historical point of view," said Teruaki Nagasaki, Japanese ambassador to the Holy See.
"I am very happy with this decision," he told AsiaNews. "I think that in Japan many researchers are just waiting for these texts to shed a better light on that period. And of course it is very nice that such collaboration has emerged."
The 'Marega Papers' are a compilation of around 10,000 documents chronicling the persecution of Christians in Japan between the 17th and the 19th centuries.
An Italian missionary, Rev Mario Marega, took the papers to Rome in the 1940s, where they were left untouched until researcher Delio Proverbio found them in the Vatican Archives in 2010.
For the prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, Monsignor Cesare Pasini, they are "the largest collection of its kind." The agreement to translate and inventory the documents was signed by the Vatican Library and four Japanese institutions and will cover a six-year period.
The rice-paper scrolls are so delicate that they can only be touched with special gloves. The first one is dated 1719, and mentions the arrival of Christianity in Japan in 1549 thanks to Jesuit missionaries.
As evidence of how far the Christian faith had spread in the country, one of the documents mentions four Japanese noblemen who travelled to Rome in 1585 to attend the election of Pope Sixtus V.
Obviously, many of the documents refer to the persecution ordered by the Shogunate against the new community, and describe in detail the martyrdom of 26 Christians in Nagasaki, which led to the ban of Christianity in 1612.
Pope Francis recently mentioned Japanese Christians in the general audience of 15 January. "That community," he said, "suffered a severe persecution in the early seventeenth century. There were many martyrs, members of the clergy were expelled and thousands of people were killed. Not a single priest was left in Japan: they were all expelled. The community then went underground, keeping the faith and prayer in hiding. And when a child was born, the father or the mother baptized him, because we can all baptize. When, after about two and a half centuries - 250 years later - the missionaries returned to Japan, thousands of Christians came out of hiding and the church could flourish. It had survived by the grace of their Baptism".
For Ambassador Nagasaki, these words "are very beautiful and very important. We were very happy to hear the Pope's remarks concerning Japanese Christians! Among other things, next year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the re-emergence of the ' hidden Christians,' the kakure Kirishitan that Francis mentioned.
"The Catholic community and Japan more generally will be very happy to receive a visit from the pope, and this anniversary is very important. We know that he received many invitations, but we hope all the same that he will visit Japan."