Three years ago, when the Pastor of Toyohashi was on vacation, I volunteered to cover for him for a month. This year, I was there again for five weeks as he was attending the General Chapter in Rome. My stay in Toyohashi was an experience of encountering Christians from different countries and cultures, as well as the Japanese faithful. It was interesting to observe what was happening around me and to learn to adjust according to different situations and needs. Let me share with you some of my observations and learnings.
Toyohashi mission is a place full of immigrants from countries like Brazil, Peru, Vietnam and the Philippines. They come to church to attend mass, visit the Blessed Sacrament and pray at a small grotto of our Blessed Mother. Some of them come to meet the priest to share their problems, some to get advice and some to go to confession. There is a good number of Christians involved in parish activities by taking up different responsibilities. Japanese Christians are few in number and many of them are advancing in age. A few older Japanese that I talked to expressed the need to hand over the responsibility to the younger Japanese in the near future so that with the help and support of foreigners there would be continuity.
The church has a parish council made up of Japanese as well as foreigners. The leaders appointed to take care of the Brazilian, Peruvian, Filipino and Vietnamese communities are part of the council. Since there is a language barrier, these leaders function as coordinators and interpreters. There are regular Sunday school classes for kids and the preparation for the Baptism of children and adults. Sometimes the English choir comes in the evening to practice hymns. AA group meetings are held twice a week.
On Sundays, in addition to the usual Japanese mass, there are masses celebrated in Portuguese (twice a month), Tagalog, Spanish and Vietnamese (once a month). By looking at the congregation, you feel that there is hope for the future because of many young people. Toyohashi is a place to plant the seed of vocation. Perhaps in the future, some might respond to God’s invitation to the priesthood and religious life.
I have noticed that Christians who come from Latin America and certain parts of Asia, bring with them their faith and religious practices that are new to the Japanese. Due to this, adaptation and integration especially for the Japanese are not very easy, but, they try to understand foreign Christians and their practice of faith during the liturgy and parish gatherings. Since the majority of them in the parish are foreigners, I think this is a good opportunity for the Japanese to be open to learning from them, while respecting each culture and religious tradition. According to my observation, in spite of the language and cultural differences, there seems to be an atmosphere of harmony within the parish community.
Outside the parish structure, there is also a great need for assistance to foreigners who are faced with difficulties related to their day-to-day living in Japan. Due to the language, social and cultural barriers, they are in need of interpreters to help them especially when it comes to the legal matters of life and work. Foreigners, who are predominantly Christians, usually wish to seek help from a church-based organization. Unlike a civil organization, a Catholic welfare center or a church creates an atmosphere for them to relax and makes them feel at ease. It may also help them receive better treatment. In this way, a parish can serve society.
The Pastor of Toyohashi is very much involved in assisting foreigners with translation, advice etc. but it is too much for one man. Therefore, in the future, with the help and support of the Japanese within the parish structure, if a team could be formed to deal with foreigners, it would serve not only the Christians but also people of other faiths. Due to their financial situation, most foreigners cannot afford to attend a language school. Thus, they are handicapped using the Japanese language. In this situation, if Toyohashi parish had a few retired Japanese who can find time to teach Japanese, it would be good. This can be opened to any foreigner living in society.
Having expressed my observations, thoughts and suggestions, I would say that the harvest in Toyohashi is rich, but the laborers are few! Listening to a few people in the parish, I feel that the formation of laity is a must. People are generous and very supportive, but they are in need of guidance, animation and accompaniment. This is the same with young people too. They need a young priest to listen to and to journey with them. At present, there is only one Oblate who has to attend to all these various needs, and it is not very easy. Therefore, I strongly feel the importance of forming an Oblate community in Toyohashi. As Oblates, since we have given priority to working with migrants/immigrants, it will be worth investing money, energy and personnel in building that mission. I wish and hope it will be realized in the near future.
“Wherever we work, our mission is especially to those people whose condition cries out for salvation and for the hope which only Jesus Christ can fully bring.” (Const. 5)