06/23/2010, 00.00
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"Globalized" mission in southern Japan

by Pino Cazzaniga
Father Claudio Gazzard (PIME) celebrates 60 years of priesthood dedicated to concrete inculturation, the result of study, understanding and encountering people. Nursery schools and games of football every morning.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) -  The Italian missionary Claudio Gazzard can be considered a model of inculturation and globalization.  A few days ago, Sunday, June 13, in a modest Catholic church on the outskirts of the city of Imari, in southern Japan, the 85 year old presided over the celebration of Mass on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his ordination.

Among the many present at the ceremony and dinner that followed, only two of his compatriots: the representative of the Roman direction of his Institute (PIME) and the local superior, who, while participating in the common joy, were reserved, almost as if not to distract attention from the main players of the event: the man who was being celebrated, inseparably united to the other participants, all of them Japanese.  


A rare diamond

"Congratulations on your diamond ".  This is how one of the speakers began his address at the following dinner. The Japanese are not picky purists, if they can not find a term in their own vocabulary to express a Western concept, they transliterate the pronunciation of the English, often delimiting its meaning. And so "dayamondo" has become synonymous with celebration of a glorious sixty years.

And in fact the word "dayamondo" began the refrain in speeches and conversations that day. In the context of Japanese society of missionary life Gazzard, or rather his sixty years of missionary priesthood may be called a "diamond", a diamond that has gradually formed through the interaction of two cultures, that from which he originated and that in which he has lived.

When the mid 1950s, Father Claudio left for Japan, the word "globalization" was little known. Now it's on everyone's lips even though its true meaning is often not directly perceived. Not so much the media as the meeting of people of different cultures create the global society.

For over half a century Gazzard, the missionary priest, has become an active subject of intercultural communication. The hardships he faced to be faithful, year after year, to the initial inspiration that allowed him to become positively rock-like and splendid, like a diamond, in fact.


From Milan to Tokyo

In order to become what he became Claudio, who was not a man of study, had to faced in spite of himself a profound process of "inculturation," another unfamiliar word in his language.

"To leave home to go and live in an unknown cultural environment requires uncommon courage and zeal," said an admirer of the old missionary. And in fact for him this process, which began early on, was neither easy nor quick: the desire to become a priest, born in his heart at the age of 12, seemed impossible, because the peasant family from rural Lombardy where he grew up, lived on the margins of poverty.

The seminary for young boys from poor families, founded in Cottolengo Turin solved the problem. And here the process of inculturation began with the study Latin, which at the time was a must for all students.  But the process took a revolutionary turn when he decided to join a missionary organization to realize his ideal not in Italy, but in a non-European continent.

Gradually he realized that inculturation in a "global" context was not the choice of scholars but the normal dimension of the missionary, who must be a man of dialogue. A second cultural development was necessary, one that was offered him in Milan, then headquarters of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). But in 1954 a further culture shock, we could say tragic, awaited him, when the missionary institute did not send him among the primitives in an African forest or to Latin America, culturally similar to Europe, but to Tokyo, the metropolis of Japanese culture. All of a sudden he found himself blind, deaf and dumb.


From the Babylon of the capital to the desert of the south island.

After two years of daily study, his eyes and ears were opened and his tongue loosened, a little, but the process of the formation of the diamond was far from finished.

As district missionary Gazzardi was assigned the region of Saga, one of the smallest of Japan’s prefectures, over a thousand kilometres from Tokyo on the large island in the south (Kyushu). If the capital had seemed a Babylon because of linguistic difficulties, then the area of Saga must have appeared like a desert for its substantial lack of Christian and Western references.

Fortunately, the novice missionary noticed he had something within him that he could communicate, something that was greatly needed.  Faith, one would naturally say. Certainly, but the missionary knows that this gift comes from on High, if it considers it his, he ends up losing it. What he realized was that culture he had forged in Italy could be an effective tool for communication in the context of dialogue on a global level. The image of the missionary-teacher was superseded by that of the missionary-man of dialogue.


The nursery oasis of cultural dialogue

"In kindergarten during the year there are several events in which our director, even now at 85, still energetically and willingly takes part. I have often wondered where he gets all of this energy from. In this attitude I and other teachers glimpse the life of the priest who follows the strict religious precepts every day”, so says Mrs. Sakaki Matsuo, principal of the Catholic kindergarten in the city of Imari.

Reading the text of speech I admire, along with the high quality of style a nobility of sentiments. I write this to make known to the readers the privileged place where for decades Gazzardi and PIME missionaries have nurtured intercultural dialogue in this little known prefecture.

Italy and the West in general perceive Japan to be a highly secularized nation. This is not the case in the provinces where religious meaning is still widespread.

In the mid1950s a veteran missionary in China, superior of the  Saga Group, planned to build churches in the seven major cities of the prefecture. Gazzardi, who had an instinctive aversion to theoretical studies offset by significant abilities in management, became his right hand man.

The "Chinese method" did not work: the churches, except for Sunday services, they failed to attract the small Christian flock.  Instead they were drawn to the "nursery schools" that the missionary-manager, together with other brothers, took care to build in each residence. For six days a week from eight in the morning to late afternoon these kindergartens are oases full of life: thousands of children have passed through them with two generations of young mothers. The heart of these institutions is the group of teachers gathered around the "shunin sensei", the head teacher. But the director is always the "shimpusama, the Catholic priest, to whom the teachers listen for spiritual guidance.

The "Japanese" Catholic Church as such is little known in the provinces, not as  much as the universal Church: the mothers will gladly send their boys and girls there because the director is a shimpusama.


The morning football game

"The shimpusama is a zealous person, whatever he does, he does it seriously: prayer, football, work, so says Father Sakurai. The mention of "football" next to "prayer and work" in a sentence pronounced during the homily of the Mass for the 60th anniversary of priestly ordination, may surprise. But the speech by the Director of Education during the dinner, proved that this approach outlines the identity of the Imari nursery school director.

"Everybody knows - Matsuo said - that the father takes part in a soccer game with children every morning, that game is part of the school’s daily program. He is both coach and famous player”.

Gazzardi knowing that among the youth of Japan this sport is no less popular than baseball or "sumo wrestling", also made the game of football a place of intercultural dialogue, where the interlocutors are children of nursery school.


The precious pearl

But the place where the Italian missionary was able to effectively experience a particular cultural dialogue was with the priest Japanese Naoki Sakurai. The son of a professor of English literature, a Catholic, Naoki was an infant when Gazzardi took on responsibility for the church in Saga, and now, at 51 years, was given the parish of the Cathedral Fukuka, the metropolis of Kyushu.

In order to avail of a particular theological formation, Sakurai as a young priest lived for some years in Rome and Canada. So, thanks to an unbroken relationship with his old pastor of Saga he is the realisation of a successful encounter in faith between the Japanese and European culture.

He was the obvious choice for to hold the homily for the 60th anniversary of his forming father’s priesthood.

"The poor and humble life of this father (Gazzardi) - he said – does not shine light a diamond from material wealth but from the love of God that he has transmitted to many people in the difficult society of modern Japan”.

The main theme of the entire homily, although based on the person being celebrated, was the relationship between God and Japanese society.  This was illustrated with an anecdote. "Last year – he said - during a vacation in Italy I went along with his father Gazzardi to Switzerland, where  visiting a museum we saw a video that was the beginning of the universe and of life. Leaving the museum, Father Claudio said to me: 'Why do they not recognize God? God saved Moses and his people from Egypt. God created the world? ". Sakurai said. "If man does not recognize this, man does not give importance to life or the universe and therefore many destroy life and the universe”.

Anyone who has lived for decades in Japan can not but admire the high quality of Japanese culture, but also realize a widespread atmosphere of gloom which too frequently leads to tragic gestures.

"Transmitting the reality of God - said Sakurai - father Gazzardi taught us how to live life in joy. Things and the money alone cannot make man happy. We all know the father’s (Gazzardi) sense of humour.  A person can not express humour if there is no joy in his life. Giving importance to God, as father did, brings happiness".

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