09/06/2023, 18.03
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Fr Lembo remembers Bishop Mori for whom God was the ‘onsen’ of his heart

by Andrea Lembo *

At the funeral of the auxiliary bishop of Tokyo, the PIME missionary, who replaced him at the helm of the Shinsei Kaikan Catholic Cultural Centre, remembered the prelate who loved to refer to God through the typically Japanese image of hot spring water. During his ministry, he shared a life of closeness and consolation with so many people.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Auxiliary Bishop Paul Kazuhiro Mori of Tokyo, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 84, was laid to rest yesterday. Archbishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi led the funeral service in the presence of some 800 people in a simple ceremony, in keeping with Bishop Mori’s style.

Fr Andrea Lembo, a PIME missionary from Italy, was tasked with delivering the homily. He succeeded Bishop Mori as director of the Shinsei Kaikan Catholic Cultural Centre which the prelate had been the soul in Tokyo for many years.

What follows are Fr Lembo’s thoughts for AsiaNews readers.

As I thought back to Bishop Mori's ministry and its significance over so many years in Tokyo, I was reminded of Jesus's words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Mt 11:28-29).

The three imperatives laid out by Jesus in this verse should be food for thought. First of all, "Come to me". How many people Bishop Mori led to Jesus, through his ministry, listening to them, but also through catechesis, conferences, retreats.

"Take my yoke upon you." The bishop was able to live these words by trying to lift the yoke that fell on the shoulders of far too many people in a country like Japan where social pressures impose heavy expectations at work and school, and in relationships. Many times, when he met people, the bishop took their concerns upon himself, lightening their burden.

Lastly, "learn from me". He certainly learnt from Jesus, experiencing the Gospel during his lifetime by being close to the poor and the young.

In my homily I cited two personal recollections from the many years in which I had the good fortune to regularly meet with him. The first one refers to our first meeting in 2011, on 26 December, the day when we priests meet in the Archdiocese of Tokyo.

We were sitting in the cathedral for the Te Deum and he sat next to me. At one point, he asked me: “You're Father Andrea, right?” I said yes.

Then he dropped on me an unexpected question: “What nationality do you think God is?” immediately adding: "For me he is certainly not Japanese, because we Japanese do not like to be praised. It's more likely that he's Italian like you”.

The other recollection is about something I heard him repeat many times. He used to say that God was the onsen of his heart, the Japanese hot spring water that offers rest.

I believe that all his spirituality is contained in this word, i.e.  the idea of letting oneself be embraced by God, in one’s total nakedness, like in warm water in which we find rest and consolation.

It was also the way in which he bore witness to God in Japanese society, expressing it like someone close to you, who warms your heart, soothes and heals every wound.

Many friends were also present at the funeral, including Shintoists and Buddhists. Seeing them there made me understand that it will be important for us to revisit in depth his legacy, and look closely at his writings.

But the most moving moment was seeing so many young people – next to the coffin, at the back of the church, dressed in mourning on such a day, eyes swelling with tears.

In him they had found a man capable of closeness, which tells us how much his presence was a grace and how much we shall miss him.

* PIME missionary, director of the Shinsei Kaikan Catholic Cultural Centre in Tokyo

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