The international fraternity of the Nagasaki project: a living testimony of peace

An international fraternity in Nagasaki that could be a living witness to peace: it was in 2010 when the then Minister General Br José Rodríguez Carballo had this inspiration while visiting the Franciscan Province of the Holy Martyrs of Japan. In a place that witnessed death and destruction due to the atomic bombing in 1945, the Minister thought of the opportunity to build an international community that could become a proclamation of peace itself, that could bear witness to what it means to live in peace.

His inspiration remained so until 2018, when it was brought to life with the collaboration of the OFM Conference of East Asia, which includes Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, China and Taiwan. The OFM Conference asked the friars of these provinces to offer themselves for the project, of which today three friars are part: Br Francis Furusato of the Japanese Province, Br Berardo Yang of the Chinese Custody and Br Albert Marfil of the Philippine Province. The friars of the Nagasaki project are included in the regular community of Nagasaki, where the other brothers carry out pastoral service in the parish and educational service in the kindergarten.

The 10mt bronze peace statue place at the Peace Park, Nagasaki

“We live our ordinary life as friars minor in the community, where we eat together, pray regularly in Japanese, work,” explains Br Albert Marfil, a friar for about 38 years. “Besides this, to build a community of peace, we read, study and share the writings of St Francis”. Nagasaki is a place that still retains traces of the horror caused by the atomic bomb, which killed thousands of people. “One of the friars of the Nagasaki friary was nine years old when the event took place,” says Brother Albert, “and is, therefore, a living witness of what happened in this genocide”. The dropping of the atomic bomb is not the only event of suffering that took place there. In the period between the 16th and 19th centuries, Nagasaki was, in fact, a place of severe persecution and martyrdom. “For more than two centuries, there were no missionaries, but Christianity continued in hiding,” says Brother Albert. “Christians hid in caves, mountains, islands, in small sanctuaries that still exist today”. These are remote and hidden places – such as the Gotō Islands (an archipelago belonging to Japan in the East China Sea) and Hirado Island – where the friars periodically go to pray. The descendants of the first Christians still live there, and the pain of the persecutions that the Christians had to endure is still alive. This is why the fraternity of the Nagasaki project, after this difficult period of the pandemic, hopes to be able to return to welcome pilgrims to visit and pray at these hidden shrines. The friars also organise meetings to educate people to pray for peace.

Since last year, several friars have been interested in this project, and now that Japan is finally reopening its borders, they will be able to come to Nagasaki to experience life there. “We are a complete community in mission,” continues Br Albert. “We do our best to pray together, celebrate the Eucharist, eat together, spend moments of recollection and adoration together. This is the Franciscan way of seeking peace for Nagasaki and the whole world: peace comes from prayer”. The friars also collaborate with the JPIC office to raise awareness and encourage the elimination of the atomic bomb weapon. In this regard, they also organise meetings to tell of the effects the nuclear bomb has had on people and the planet and support various other religious orders.

Br Albert always wanted to live in a community of prayer and knows how important this is for peace: “What we share with people should come from our relationship with God. Peace comes from God, and whatever we announce or proclaim must come from God and our relationship with Him and with each other”.

Today in Nagasaki, in the Peace Park stands a large ten-metre bronze statue: from there, he shouts his appeal to the whole world for lasting world peace and a prayer that such a tragedy will not be repeated.