Currently, the Nagasaki Churches and Christian Legacy Sites appear on Unesco's tentative list of World Heritage Candidates, and the process to secure permanent registration as a World Heritage Site is underway.
Until this point, we've followed the threads of the history of the Nagasaki Churches and Christian Legacy Sites. It's important to note, however, that this 450 year period of upheaval speaks not only to issues of religion, but also to the latent potential and dormant possibilities of the region as whole.
On January 15th, 2014, Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of over 1 billion Catholic subjects addressed the world from the Plaza de San Pietro in the Vatican. "The Japanese Christian Community suffered a severe persecution in the early seventeenth century. Their priests were exiled and gone from the country, and the people were forced to conceal their practice of the religion. When a child was born, the father and mother baptised it. By the grace of baptism, Christianity in Japan survived. We can learn much from this story."
Pope Francis spoke of the roughly 250 years in which the covert Christians of Nagasaki, absent the presence of any clergy or religious officials, kept the practice of baptism, and with it, their faith alive on their own, extolling them as "exemplary."
The Nagasaki alluded to by the Pope and the visit of the covert Christians of Urakami to be discovered by the priest Petitjean at Oura Church are just now starting to be reexamined as a miracle of religious history, and are garnering much attention.
The Nagasaki Churches and Christian Sites, included on Unesco World Heritage's tentative list of sites, consist of castle ruins and church buildings, for a total of 13 locations. The smaller modern day churches as well as the castle ruins, stripped of their stone walls, remind us that without a knowledge of history, we might simply let important things be overlooked.
One might say that alongside the adorned churches of Europe and the grand nature of China that comes to mind at the mention of "World Heritage," the Christian sites in Nagasaki pale in comparison. However, when one learns the story of how these sites came to be, and how they fell into ruin, we can appreciate their value in a different light.
From the turbulent historical thread that we've followed so far (Exactly what part do faith and religion play in the lived life? How does religion interact with governmental rule?), there is much knowledge to be gathered. From the 250 years that the covert Christians survived with wisdom, cunning, and perseverance, we can learn much about how to overcome the difficulties in our own lives.
In addition to the aforementioned knowledge, from these 450 years of history, we can take a look at the "genetics" of the land itself in Shimabara, Nagasaki, Goto, and Amakusa. The long coastline and the abundance of naturally occurring harbors played an important role in connecting the area with Europe during the era of Christian monarchy. And, during the era of the ban on Christianity, that winding, complicated coastline also served to isolate and segregate parts of the land from other areas.
Connection and isolation. Two seemingly contrary characteristics that exist simultaneously here. These characteristics are what made it possible to both take in new cultural imports from outside, and to then protect them, ensuring their continued propagation, and shaping the charm of this region. The diversity of methods by which the faith was passed down during the time of covert Christianity captures perfectly the diversity of this land.
Many of the missionary bases used during the Age of Exploration, such as the ones in Lisbon, Portugal, Goa, India, and Macao in China have already been registered as World Heritage sites. If the missionary base here, at the furthest end of the missionaries' reach is successfully registered, it will completely connect their sailing route from West to East, and encourage a reexamination of the existence of Middle Ages Japan and its place in world history.
Now, more people than ever are able to cross international borders and come and go between countries. With all of the cultures in all of the world, how we achieve harmony between them from here on is one of the issues that faces all of humankind.
When we decide the road that should be taken as we head into the future, we can choose to consider our history well. What is the best possible choice? How can we avoid repeating the same mistakes? These are things that we can learn from history. We hope very much that when you think of future generations, you will remember the lessons that are imparted to us by the Nagasaki Churches and Christian Legacy Sites.