This month, a dozen Christian landmarks in Japan—where just 1 percent of the population claims Christ—have been officially recommended to be named World Heritage sites.
Spanning across the Nagasaki and Amakusa region, these sites represent places where believers during the Tokugawa shogunate (1630-1867) suffered the harshest persecution and martyrdom in the Asian nation’s history.
The list includes the Oura Cathedral in Nagasaki, which memorializes 17 Japanese Christians and 9 European priests who were crucified at the order of the ruler; Hara Castle in Minamishimabara, a battlefield during the uprising when Catholic rebels were massacred, their leader beheaded, and their faith banned; and other “hidden Christian” sites, where Christ-followers carried on their beliefs in secret for hundreds of years.
These landmarks, if granted recognition by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) next month, would join 14 other cultural World Heritage sites in Japan and over 800 around the world.
Japan’s recommendation comes five years after local leaders submitted the Christian sites for consideration. The country learned in early May that an advisory panel, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, had endorsed the “hidden Christian” sites for inclusion on the World Heritage List; the final decision will come out of a UNESCO meeting in late June.
“This recommendation by the Japanese government on hidden Christian sites is significant for several reasons,” said Makoto Fujimura, who engages Shusaku Endo’s novel on persecution in 17th-century Japan in his own book about faith in the midst of suffering, Silence and Beauty.
“First, it recognizes the centrality of hidden Christian history in Japanese soil, affirming the instinct of [Endo] whose book Silence has been a significant contributor of Japanese understanding of her own history,” he told CT. “Second, it accentuates the cultural value of the resilience of Christianity even under many years of persecution.”
While World Heritage sites often showcase masterful creativity and significant cultural contributions—areas of national pride and popular tourist attractions—UNESCO also awards the designation to locations that “bear a unique or exceptional testimony” to a particular tradition.
The Christian tradition, of course, centers around the testimony of Christ’s resurrection and the redemptive power of suffering. Such resilience and redemption is poignantly and tragically reflected in the church’s historical markers in Japan.
As one Catholic leader put it, “We claim the places where our faith was greatest and erect the world’s most beautiful art and places of true worship.”
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Source: Christianity Today