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Japan first Asian nation to forge full diplomatic ties with the Vatican

VATICAN (SE): The Holy See and Japan are marking the 75th anniversary of the forging between the two states of full diplomatic relations in 1942.
In the Vatican, the celebrations revolved around a Mass celebrated at the Church of the Gesù in Rome by the Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, on October 11, and a symposium at the Pontifical Gregorian University on the following day.
The controversial theme of both the Mass and the symposium was an appeal made to the Holy See towards the end of World War II by the government in Tokyo to intervene for peace on its behalf, as its war machine was breaking down.
When this news was first released, it was vehemently denied on Japanese radio in the aftermath of the war, but Vatican Radio reported that the current ambassador to the Holy See, Yoshio Nakamura, affirmed the truth of the matter at the symposium held at the Jesuit-run university.
On the other side of the world, the anniversary is being marked in Japan with an essay competition among students across the country on the theme of the New Year Peace Day Message for this year penned by Pope Francis.
Nakamura added that the four winners will visit Rome later in the year and he hopes they can have an audience with the pope.
Full diplomatic relations were formally tied between the two states in 1942, although informal relations had existed since 1919, when Japan agreed to a Holy See request to send an apostolic delegate to reside in Tokyo.
Forming full diplomatic relations was a controversial move at the time for the Vatican, as it was done during an era when the United States of America and the United Kingdom were at war with the Land of the Rising Sun.
Both of the allied nations interpreted the move as an approval of, or possibly worse, a blessing from the Catholic Church on Japan’s role in the war and the colonising campaign it was conducting in Asia.
Japan marked the newly formed relationship by having Ken Harada, who was assigned to its embassy in Vichy, the puppet capital of France at the time, accredited as its first special minister to the Holy See.
In addition, Tokyo gave full recognition to Archbishop Paolo Marella as a nuncio to Japan. However, he retained the rank of apostolic delegate so as not to inflame a Buddhist backlash.
At the time, there were some 20 million Christians living on Japanese territory, with almost two-thirds, 13 million, in the occupied Philippines.
But despite criticism from the allied powers, the Vatican held its ground and did not acquiesce to the Japanese request to recognise the Nanjing Nationalist Government, which it had set up with a puppet emperor in China.
However, it was not until 1958 that Japan established an embassy to the Vatican in Rome.
Today, Japan has an ambassador accredited to the Holy See and the Vatican has an apostolic nuncio accredited to the government in Tokyo.
Relations are regarded as cordial, with Japan recognising the contribution the Church has made through education and health care, as well as the assistance Catholic people offered after the tsunami in Fukushima in 2011.
Pope John Paul II visited Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1981 and the emperor, Akihito, visited the Vatican in 1993, with the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, making a call in 2014.
A prince of the royal family, Akishino, was also a guest at the Vatican in 2016.
But it is over 100 years since the Vatican made its first overture to the modern era government of the country. An American, Bishop William O’Connell, was sent to Tokyo in 1905 to convey the gratitude of the pope to the emperor, Meiji, for his protection of Christians during the Russo-Japanese War.
Japan returned the courtesy two years later with a similar visit to the Vatican.
During World War I, the apostolic delegate to The Philippines travelled to Japan to deliver greetings from Pope Benedict XV to the emperor, Taisho.
However, initial overtures go back almost 500 years, when a group of four young men travelled to Europe from Japan in 1549, meeting with several European leaders, including Pope Gregory XIII, who warmly welcomed them.
Although the visit of the young Japanese delegation was largely judged a failure, their presence put Japan on the map in the Vatican.
The voyage of diplomacy embarked on by these young men is the subject of the famed novel, Samurai, by Japanese author, Shusaku Endo.
Japan was the first nation in Asia to form full diplomatic relations with the Holy See, beating Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony at the time, by two weeks.
Although what was then known as Formosa had had informal relations with the Vatican since 1922, this year it marked its 75th anniversary of full diplomatic ties on October 23.

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