Columban History in Japan

February 15, 2010

Columban Father Cyril Murphy baptizes a man in Japan in 1995.

The Columban Fathers entered Japan in 1948 at the request of the bishops of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Fukuoka. The country was just beginning to recover from the devastation of World War II, and people of every class were turning to Christianity. There were great expectations for the Catholic Church.

Most of the newly arrived Columban priests, 22 by the end of 1948, were assigned to parishes, ranging from fishing villages to city centers. While the people were busy rebuilding their devastated country, so, too, Columban missionaries were busy buying sites, building and repairing churches, halls and rectories.

As life improved, the wave of interest in religion subsided. Even today there is only one Catholic for every 3,000 people. Although many Japanese admire Jesus, read the Bible and have respect for the Church’s various institutions, most are satisfied with a superficial contact.

Although assigned to parishes, Columbans always saw themselves primarily as missionaries to the unevangelized. Their parishes, with a small number of Catholics, are considered as centers for the evangelization of the thousands of unevangelized in the surrounding areas.

Over the years, Columbans have continually sought ways to meet people. Their efforts have been one-to-one or in small groups, with a view to interesting people in Christianity and the Church or at least trying to instill Gospel values in their lives.

To make contact as well as to serve the needs of people, they have established kindergartens for non-Christian children, taught English in local schools, conducted counseling services and performed marriages for non-Christian couples.

To provide opportunities for non-Christians to know Jesus Christ, a short course on Christianity was designed and is periodically promoted. An effective marriage preparation course was introduced that led to the setting up of the “Happy Family Association,” which promotes natural family planning.

Columban Father Harry O’Carroll carries a monstrance during a Corpus Christi procession in 2005 in Kumamoto City, Japan.

Through their stance on the broader issues of the dignity of human life and of peace and justice, Columbans have found opportunities to work with various organizations. At the same time they have patiently nourished the faith of their people, few though they are, so that they will give ever more effective witness to their neighbors.

They have encouraged a missionary spirit in their people, bringing them in contact with Catholics in other Columban countries. In the last 20 years, Japan has seen a growth in its foreign population, both legal and illegal. Many are Catholics from Vietnam, Latin America and the Philippines. Some Catholic communities now have more foreign members than Japanese.

The influx of foreigners has enriched the local Churches with awareness that the Catholic Church is a universal and evangelizing Church. Japanese Catholics have new opportunities to serve these fellow Catholics who encounter many problems working in a culture not their own.

To aid the new members of their flocks, Columbans have facilitated priest and lay missionaries from other countries to come to Japan.

The wave of foreign workers has provided new opportunities for cooperation between local Churches and non-Christian groups working in various ways to promote social justice.