The Franciscan Order officially began its mission in Japan in 1593. Four years later, a large scale persecution of Christians took place. On February 5, 1597 six Franciscans from Spain, seventeen Japanese neophytes who belonged to the Third Order of St. Francis, and three Portuguese Jesuits were martyred by crucifixion in Nagasaki. They were canonized in 1862.
Three hundred years after these dramatic events, Franciscans from Poland arrived in Nagasaki. On February 26, 1930 five missionaries from Niepokalanow set out for the Far East. They were: Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, Br. Zenon Zebrowski, Br. Hilary Lysakowski, Br. Seweryn Dagis, and Br. Zygmunt Krol. During their journey they decided that Br. Seweryn and Br. Zygmunt would go to China and the rest would sail to Japan. After two months of traveling by train and ship they arrived in Nagasaki on April 24, 1930.
The Polish Franciscans were given permission to establish a friary by the bishop of Nagasaki under the condition that Fr. Maximilian teaches courses at the diocesan seminary. After a few months they were joined by new friars from Poland: Mieczyslaw Mirochna and Damian Bert. In July of 1930 Fr. Kolbe became the guardian of the friary in Nagasaki that was under construction by that time. The location selected for the new friary was on the side of a mountain, very neglected and difficult to reach.
With much difficulty, the friars finished construction on the friary in 1931, giving it the name "Mugenzai no Sono" - the Garden of the Immaculata. Later it would become evident that its location was providential. The friars began publishing "Seibo no Kishi," "The Knight of the Immaculata" in the Japanese language. In April 1936, they opened a so-called "minor seminary".
After returning to Poland in July of 1936, Fr. Kolbe became the guardian of Niepokalanow. The friary and publishing house in Nagasaki continued to operate with "full force." This dynamic growth was stopped only by the explosion of a nuclear bomb. On August 9, 1945 Americans dropped a nuclear bomb called "Fat Man" on Nagasaki, which killed approximately 70,000 people. The Franciscan friary survived the bombing, with the exception of the broken windows. The location of the friary on the opposite side of the mountain saved it from the destructive force of the bomb.
The Franciscan friars immediately came to the aid of the residents of Nagasaki. They rescued the survivors of the immense explosion. Br. Zenon Zebrowski provided extraordinary assistance by building orphanages for children of victims of the war in such cities as Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Tokyo. He called these centers of assistance "Cities of Ants," ("Ari no Machi" in Japanese). In Japan, even during his lifetime, he was called a saint because of his extensive travels to open more centers of assistance for orphans and children with special needs. When he died, after 52 years of selfless service, a monument was erected with the significant inscription, "Brother Zenon - Love Without Limits".
The present population of Japan is almost 130 million, 84% of which practice Shintoism and Buddhism. The remaining 16% belong to other religions, among which less than 1% practice Christianity.
Nagasaki is the most "Catholic" city in Japan. Among the more than 400,000 residents, almost 10% are Christian, mainly because of the work of the spiritual sons of St. Francis of Assisi.
In the photos: 1) Fr. Kolbe distributing the "Knight of the Immaculata" to Japanese children, 2) construction of the friary in Nagasaki in 1931 on the side of Hikosan Mountain (Fr. Kolbe is second from the left), 3) Fr. Kolbe with his pupil Fr. Alexander Tabaka (second from the left) after his Mass of Thanksgiving in 1935, 4) Br. Zenon Zebrowski building an orphanage with Japanese workers, 5) Br. Zebrowski distributing food to Japanese / photos from archives of Niepokalanow friary.
Translated by (as)