Columban Mission in Japan
In January 1948, two Columban priests arrived in a devastated, demoralized Japan. Less than two and a half years after the end of World War II, the cities were in ruins, the people dispirited and the local church in disarray. The Columban Society had been invited by the local bishops to help rebuild the church and to bring the hope of the gospel to a nation in despair. The Society responded with enthusiasm and there were 25 Columban priests in Japan by the end of that year, already in the process of founding new churches, starting educational facilities and looking for ways to alleviate the worst of the people's suffering.
During the past 70 years, over 160 Columban priests and lay missionaries have served in Japan and have witnessed a great transformation of the country. The cities have been rebuilt, not once, but two or three times. The people are highly educated and are among the longest lived in the world. The Catholic Church has expanded throughout the country, and though not in great numbers is well regarded. I would describe it as being like the church during the time of the New Testament: small communities, rich in faith and always ready to share the hope we have in Christ. And that message of hope resonates with the men and women who visit our churches and start on their journey of faith. It is a great blessing to accompany someone as they hear the Good News for the first time and to learn of God's love.
It is a great blessing to accompany someone as they hear the Good News for the first time and to learn of God’s love.
The Columbans working in Japan are very much involved in pastoral ministry. At the same time thanks to our international character, we have been able to take up new tasks within the church. Many of us are involved in ministering to migrants. I have been pleasantly surprised to meet Filipinos, Peruvians and Myanmar people who have known Columban missionaries in their home countries and have many kind memories of them. Certainly we do belong to a universal church, which also means we are able to bring a global view on major issues. Concern for the environment would be the key area that has benefited from the dedicated work of Columbans over many years.
In 2016 we moved from our large suburban center house into a downtown parish. Making the move with us was a fairly large statue of Mary, that had been donated to us soon after the Columban mission started in Japan. Previously she had been at the entrance to our chapel, but in the much smaller building that we moved to there was no place for Mary inside the house. Instead we built a little alcove for her next to the busy road outside.
When returning from shopping or from a walk, I often see Japanese stopping in front of the statue bowing their heads or maybe taking a photo. One Japanese man came up to me after Mass and told me that he had worked in the area for 30 years and had never been inside the church. That day he saw the statue of Mary and felt he had to enter the church and to learn more. How can they believe in Christ if they have never heard about him? "And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" Romans 10:14
Columban Fr. Leo Schumacher lives and works in Japan.