Faith was in the air I breathed while growing up in the remote countryside of Ireland in the 1970s. My family, neighbors and teachers valued deeply the gift that had been passed down to them and fervently desired to pass it on to us their children. They expressed their faith through devotion to the family rosary and Sunday Mass, as well as in their caring for family members and neighbors. They had a profound sense of gratitude for the many blessings God had given them, and bore their crosses stoically. Since 99% of the people I knew were practicing Catholics, back then I never thought seriously about my faith and simply assumed it as part and parcel of life.
However, when I was in my mid-twenties I spent two years in Japan as a Columban seminarian and returned later as a missionary priest. What a surprise is was to encounter a people of whom less than one percent were Christian! It was a complete reversal of my childhood world.
During my stay there I had the privilege of accompanying a small number of adults on their journey to baptism. They were people of various ages, men and women from different walks of life. Since many of them had no background knowledge or experience of Christianity, it was necessary to guide them from the most elementary level. This was a major challenge for me as I had to examine for the very fi rst time the fundamental building blocks of my own faith and fi nd a way to convey my message in broken Japanese.
I experienced a deep sense of surprise and relief when I realized that despite my defi ciencies, many catechumens eagerly embraced their new faith and rejoiced in the fresh perspective and sense of purpose it gave to their life. There were moments when I was amazed at the commitment of the newly baptized to sharing their faith with others. I knew with certainty that I could not claim credit for any of these developments; they were clearly the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate this Year of Faith, I look back with gratitude to those Japanese people who helped me unwrap with a profound sense of awe and wonder the gift that God had given me through my family and neighbors as a child.