Friends in Unexpected Places

September 19, 2014
Fr. Tim Mulroy

Fr. Tim Mulroy

During my spring break from language school I traveled alone around Japan for ten days. I was a Columban seminarian back then and had only a rudimentary knowledge of that country’s language, customs and places of interest. However, since I had read in my guide book that there was a youth hostel in the town of Manazuru in Kanagawa prefecture, I got off the train in order to spend Saturday night there.

As I walked from the station, with the street map from the guide book open in my hand, I met a man who paused to ask me where I was heading. While I responded to him in my broken Japanese, his breath, reeking of alcohol, enveloped me. I felt very unsure, therefore, when he told me that I was going in the wrong direction! However, since it was still daylight, I took his advice and arrived at the hostel just as he had directed me!

After supper that evening I asked the owner of the hostel if there was a Catholic church in that town. He knew the location of several churches but was unsure which one was Catholic. However, he promised to personally research the matter for me, since an internet search was not an option back in those days!

Early on Sunday morning I ate breakfast while listening to the rain and the wind outside. Just as I finished, the hostel owner came in wearing heavy rain gear. He told me that he had walked around the town and found a Catholic church where there would be Mass at 9 o’clock.

There were about eighty people in the congregation, all of whom – except me – were Japanese. The story of the Prodigal Son was the Gospel reading that day. In his homily, the priest emphasized the father’s joyful embrace of his long lost son.

After Mass a number of parishioners approached me and inquired where I had come from, whether or not I had eaten breakfast, and if I was in need of anything. Perhaps, my rumpled appearance from having walked through the wind and rain, as well as the fact that I was alone and far from home, gave them the impression that I was a prodigal son in need of an embrace! I decided not to spoil that impression by telling them that I was a Columban seminarian!

Since that weekend I have frequently recalled with gratitude the kindness shown to me as a stranger by both Christians and people of other faiths in the town of Manazuru. Thanks to their hospitality, though still a young and inexperienced missionary, I felt a definite assurance that God would provide me with companions and friends on all my future missionary journeys.