Mihara (AsiaNews) – Father Arnaldo Negri, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), has been in Japan since 1992. Christmas in Japan "is a working day,” he told AsiaNews. Here, instead of Christ’s birth, people “celebrated the Emperor's birthday on 23 December”. Yet, “despite the small number of Catholics, even a small community can be great thing, full of joy, in a very complicated country."
Celebrating Christmas every year "reminds us that God became a man to be close to each of us,” he said. At the same time, “the grace of this encounter entails a responsibility towards people who in various ways seek salvation."
In his case, such responsibility has a name, Mihara, a city located some 70 kilometres east of Hiroshima. His parish is big, and includes many cities and towns on the coast, the hinterland and the islands. Undaunted, Fr Negri tries to go everywhere, travelling almost 100 kilometre a day.
In his mission, pastoral care focuses on foreigners, “most of whom are South Americans, Peruvians and Brazilians, who have at least one Japanese grandparent. Otherwise, under Japanese law, they are not entitled to permanent residence. There are also several Filipino women married to Japanese men – some with 20-25 years of marriage; other who are just newlyweds."
On 24 December, "I celebrated Mass in Japanese at 7 pm, which was attended by several Japanese worshippers and a few foreigners, primarily Filipino women and one or two Peruvian or Brazilian families. At 9 pm, I said Mass in Spanish.”
“After the Mass, we had a small celebration with cake, which Peruvians love to eat with chocolate. For some of the faithful, coming here means a long drive, sometimes up to 30 kilometres. We are a small but united community."
The following day "schools were closed, but parents still went to work. The older kindergarten kids came to morning Mass.” Later, “I travelled to an island where I brought together three Catholic children with their parents, plus more than thirty kids from the parish. After the 1 pm Mass, we played a little bingo and had a small party, then I took them home."
The first PIME missionaries arrived in Japan in 1950, after their expulsion from Maoist China. Within two years, young priests from Italy joined the missionaries. Initially, PIME was responsible for the Saga and Yamanashi areas. Eventually, they were entrusted with other areas. Currently, some 17 PIME missionaries live in the country.
Before his appointment, “A Japanese priest ran this parish,” Fr Negri said. “Some Filipino women attended celebrations, not South Americans who had problems with the language. After the arrival of an Italian, who can more easily understand and learn Spanish and Portuguese, new ties have developed."
The faithful "know about the Jubilee of Mercy. After every Mass, we recite the prayer the pope wrote for the Holy Year. In practice though, little has changed: the works of mercy are the foundation of Christianity, those on which we priests insist the most. For us Catholics, it is normal to do so.”
“As for pilgrimages, we will certainly travel to Hiroshima Cathedral, which has a Holy Door. We might also visit one of the diocese’s Marian shrines, one of the last places of martyrdom for the first Japanese Christians."