Scorsese Film About Jesuit Missionaries in Japan Debuts in Rome

by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  November 30, 2016   

"Silence" is set in Nagasaki in 1630

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ROME ( - A new film by legendary director Martin Scorsese is making its world debut to Jesuits in Rome.

The nearly three-hour film was shown at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome — the center for Eastern Catholic studies — with nearly 400 Jesuits having the opportunity to view it.

"Silence" is set in Nagasaki, Japan in 1630 when the Japanese government cracked down on a largely successful missionary effort by the Franciscans and Jesuits. By the end of the 16th century, nearly 300,000 Japanese were converted to the Catholic faith, but by the beginning of the 17th century, the ruling class was becoming suspicious of the foreign influence brought into the country by Portuguese and Spanish traders.

All Catholics — missionaries and Japanese converts alike — were seen as enemies of the state. They were told to recant the Faith or face death. Even those who rejected the Faith were treated badly by the Japanese, being ostracized by the Catholics driven underground.

When missionaries arrived again over a century later they found a fairly large community of Japanese Catholics who lived their faith in secret and passed it on to their children, even under the constant threat of death.

Scorsese's movie, based on a book by Shusako Endo, shows some of the political and religious hardships endured by converts and the missionaries. It focuses on the story of two Jesuit missionaries — played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield — who were sent to find another Jesuit who became an apostate — played by Liam Neeson.

Scorsese has kept his latest movie "Silence" away from the film festival circuit and has chosen first to show it to the Jesuits to pay homage to them and their missionary activities.

Pope Pius IX canonized 26 martyrs in Japan in 1862. Most of them were Franciscans, but the commemoration is under the name of the Jesuit Paul Miki. They were crucified and run through with spears for refusing to give up the Catholic faith. Their commemoration on the Roman Calendar takes place on February 6.


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