Milan (AsiaNews) – They come from very different backgrounds, but they are all professional career people, educated men and women, who grew up among Catholics, appreciating their human and religious witness, without ever having felt the desire to convert. That was upon till an unexpected encounter encouraged them to make that “leap of faith”. This happened to some young Japanese, who now live in Milan, who entrusted their story to the religious sister based in Italy who follwed their catechumenal journey, Sister Maria Viganò, of the Sisters of the Mary’s Infant.
The Word of God is no longer a “manual”, it is Life
Hiroko Yamamoto is a young female employee of the “Ferrovie Nord”. As a young child in Japan, she came to know of the “Word of God in a protestant setting”. “At the time- she tells – I didn’t have any desire to deepen my experience of the Gospel, for me it was just a “manual” to be studied which had no relevance whatsoever in my life, it was interpreted with a purely human wisdom”. Then, working in Italy, she met a colleague, “a woman of great faith, who knew how to live and face her illness with an extraordinary strength and serenity. Her witness brought me to reflect on the meaning of life and of death, ion the fact that faith is a great gift and that it can illuminate and sustain us in every moment of our lives”. This encounter kindled in her the “strong desire to become Christian”. After initial difficulties in finding a spiritual guide, she met the Japanese community and Sister Michela, “who is helping me prepare to receive the sacraments”. Now for Hiroko the “Word of God is no longer a ‘manual’ but a Gift, Grace, Life and Freedom. I understand that faith is a gift grows and is nurtured by the community and that within that community my life has a sense”.
Discovering the faith in Jerusalem, at the feet of the Madonna
Niki Takehiko from Obihiro, on Hokkaido island, is a 36 year old fashion photographer from Milan. Since early childhood he studied in “prestigious” Catholic Institutes, first with the Lassalliani, then the Jesuit University. 2In Japan – he tells – there are numerous Christian schools and they are highly held: the levels of education are high and the atmosphere is permeated with European culture”. In the kindergarten Niki attended “there was a lot of freedom, even if we used to pray before meals and they often made us listen to Christ’s story”. At the age of 5 he remembers taking the first ever decision of his life, when he told his parents he wanted to attend mass and catechism; almost immediately afterwards we moved, but Mary and Jesus had already entered my life”. Even if Niki lived in a Christian atmosphere right up until the end of university, he never felt the need to convert. He became a photographer and began travelling. It was during one of these journeys that he made his “most important discovery”. He tells: “One day, in Jerusalem, I entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and made my way to a statue of the Virgin, there I sat at her feet, and remained for hours in contemplation until I discovered that I was crying. I was filled with a feeling of great strength of limitless love, a love I never knew of before, yet I understood at that moment all that I was capable off and that it had always been within me”. Following this in 2004, on pilgrimage to Santiago Niki decided to ask to be baptised and become a Christian. Full of joy he freely admits, “I continue to practise yoga and eastern meditation, they are my origins, but in my heart I feel that Christianity is my true home”.
Finding the “beauty” I longed for in Jesus
Iino Mayumi is married and is bewildered by her encounter with Christianity. “I studied Fine Arts in Japan propelled onwards by my appetite for beauty – the woman tells – such a strong desire, which perhaps cannot be directly linked to the life of the faith, but one which certainly put me on the right road towards it”. On arriving in Milan, Iino begins to attend Sunday mass with her husband: “I had always regarded the Church as a far removed reality, but then I slowly came to realise the existence of something greater around me, within which I felt welcomed and involved”.
Iino gradually came to understand that “in order to create a family, where are union as husband and wife is fully realised, caring is not enough, you need the closeness of Christ, to be joined with Him, as you are in the Sacrament”. A month after her marriage in autumn of 2005, the newly wedded couple begins to attend the catechesis held by Sister Maria Viganò. “In the Sacred Scriptures which we read, Christ’s words ‘come unto me’ appear over and over again. Now I understand that that is a message from God to me and not just to anyone, as I once thought”.
Last summer Iino returned to Japan with her husband: “I came into contact with many Japanese Christians who I didn’t know before coming to Italy. Of these encounters I have taken away a strong sense of community. In the past, entering a Church I use to feel intimidated. During my return trip to Japan, whenever I managed to find a Catholic Church the sense of security that would come over me! Just like finding an old friend in a moment of need”.
“In that journey – the women tell - I witnessed the deep faith of the Christians of my land. A silent but fervent faith. The many many missionaries who came from far off lands gifting their lives to build a solid Catholic community in Japan. I too want to be just like them, in the same beauty and security”. She concludes: “Now I am certain that everything that happens to me, starting from my husband who brought me to Italy, happened for a reason. Faith in God makes us certain of our steps, it makes us believe that he will help us. It opens us to welcoming his gift”.