Brad Rozairo OMI — People living in places where there is no sign of a church or a convent often look for a priest or a nun to talk to. When they meet such a person, they are full of joy and would want to stay connected so that they can share their joys and sorrows. This is a reality for people living in the countryside.
A few years ago, I was ministering to some Christians in the northern region of Kobe, Japan, in a small mission station with a handful of people. Since there was no place for worship, I was looking for a facility to get together. An elderly Catholic couple living in that countryside was generous enough to offer an old house that belonged to them, for the use of liturgy, meetings etc. A group of 15 – 20 people living in the mountains were very happy to have a mission base where they could gather to meet a priest, attend mass and receive the sacraments twice a month. The old house turned out to be a place of worship and for the owner, it was a blessing from God. Since the majority in that group was older Japanese, they were very happy to include a few young Vietnamese who joined them for mass and their presence made a big difference. Whenever I celebrated mass with them I could feel a homely atmosphere, and our fellowship (sharing of food and drink) after mass made everyone relax. It also created an environment where they could share their joys and sorrows.
Going further into the mountains I came across a few who were longing for the sacraments. I remember visiting a sickly woman in her 80s, whose main concern was a Catholic funeral when she is called by her Creator. Being the only Catholic in the family, she wanted to know whether she would be able to get a priest at least to a nearby funeral parlor to perform the last rites and the interment of her ashes. Listening to her, I felt that she was not only preparing herself for the last days but also her non-Christian family so that they would know what to do when she is gone. When I suggested to her the possibility of a Catholic funeral in a funeral parlor, she looked very happy and satisfied. This is just one person, but there are many older people living far away from the church with such concerns. I think their simple faith has taught them the importance of Christian life, prayer etc. and when it is time for them to leave this world, they want to make sure that everything is done according to the Catholic rite.
After moving to Kochi, I travel to 2 faraway places in the countryside and visit two groups of students who are in Japan studying agriculture. They are Agricultural Trainees (農業研修生) mostly from the Philippines, and they manage to live on the minimum wage that is given to them. An old dirty looking building in Susaki City is where we celebrate mass. In Tosayamada Town, a low-quality vinyl tent continues to serve as a makeshift chapel. During summer the place is full of mosquitos, and during winter it is freezing cold as there are no sidewalls. But in these places, although you do not see a church building as such, the true meaning of church (Ecclesia) is present in the poverty and simplicity of the people gathering for prayer and worship.
Pope Francis talks quite frequently about the need for the church, that is for all of us to go to what he calls the peripheries or the margins. He invites us to be present among the people who are marginalized. This is a challenge to priests and religious serving the church in Japan. I think we have “stayed in” for too long, serving a chosen audience (Christians) for many years within well-established structures. This has not only made life comfortable, but has also prevented us from being challenged by the poor out in the society. Thus, I feel that we have not really offered everyone the word of salvation that Jesus came to bring.Brad Rozairo OMI