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Persecuted Christians should follow Japanese example, says Francis

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience today (CNS)

Christians facing difficulties and discrimination, especially in the Middle East, can learn a valuable lesson from Japanese Christians who survived by clandestinely baptising, praying and hiding during 250 years of harsh persecution, Pope Francis has said.

“Difficulties and persecution, when they are lived with trust, confidence and hope, purify the faith and strengthen it,” he said in his general audience talk in St Peter’s Square earlier today.

“Be true witnesses of Christ and his Gospel, authentic children of the Church, always ready to give reasons for your hope with love and respect,” he told pilgrims from the Middle East.

Pope Francis went on to underline how important baptism is for the people of God and for keeping the faith alive by pointing to the experience of Christians in Japan in the early 17th century.

Every single priest was expelled from the country, he said, while thousands of Christians there were killed and those who were left went underground, praying and practicing the faith clandestinely.

When missionaries were allowed to return after nearly 250 years, they found thousands of Christians ready to help the Church blossom again, the Pope explained.

Japanese Christians “survived with the grace of baptism,” which, because there were no priests, was conferred to every newborn by his baptised mother or father, he 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,” he continued. “We can learn a lot from this history.”

Later, in a greeting to pilgrims from Jordan and the Holy Land, Pope Francis urged them to learn from the Japanese example how to keep “the flame of faith always lit, transmitting it from one generation to the other.”

Every Christian has the duty to transmit the faith, he said before adding, “With this grace, the Christian people journey over time like a river that irrigates the earth and spreads God’s blessing across the world.”