Last night I stayed up very late editing the (other) blog, so I slept right through both alarms (missing Lauds) and singing the Regina Cæli an hour late. Stumbling out to the kitchen for toast and cereal, I wondered if I would be able to understand anything at all in today’s Mass.
You see, I live in Kofu. It’s quite a small city, but it’s the capital of Yamanashi prefecture so the church here seems to coordinate the activities for Catholics all over. While the rector (an elderly French missionary priest) offers Mass every Sunday at 10 AM in Japanese, there are also masses in other languages to provide for the other significantly numerous groups – Korean twice a month, and once a month each for Spanish, Portuguese and “English”. The thing is, when I first arrived here I met the Spanish-speaking priest, and since he spoke excellent English I assumed he also offered the English and Portuguese Masses, leaving Japanese and Korean to the rector.
A week later it was Easter, so I only saw the French priest (always in his necktie and jumper, which I hadn’t been expecting). The next week I didn’t make it to Mass at all (which was horrible), so after three and a half weeks I attended the “English” Mass and to my surprise met not the old French or old Spanish priest, but a young American in a Roman collar. I quickly found out that not only was he young and from America (a native speaker of “English”!), he was a Benedictine. Catholic monks in Japan, deo gratias!
I haven’t been calling it the “English” Mass because it was offered by an American (they don’t speak English, they speak American). Rather, it was “English” because the only English used in the mass were the bits required by the Roman Missal. The canon, the readings, the prayers of the priest (and responses of the congregation) were indeed in English – but the rest was in Tagalog.
It turns out that there is in fact a sizable Filipino community in Yamanashi (I don’t know why I thought otherwise, Filipinos are everywhere) and so this “English” Mass caters to them in much the same way as the Spanish and Portuguese Masses cater to South Americans. Unfortunately for me, I speak even less Tagalog than I do Spanish (as a metiso, both are ancestral languages in my family, but I lost them at a young age to English – that wretched, jealous tongue). The opening and closing greetings, ALL of the hymns, the gloria, the credo, and the (irritating) commentary were in Tagalog, as well as the Liturgy of the Notices (following Communion but ponderously preceding the Prayer after Communion and Dismissal) were in Tagalog. The homily was even more strange, because Father opened in Japanese, gave the (poignant) bulk in English, then concluded with short remarks in Tagalog. Afterwards I was invited to join the others for a meal and chat in the hall, which I thoroughly enjoyed – communicating in a sort of English-Japanese-Tagalog pidgin (we always do this).
The following week was Mass in Japanese again, where I saw (but didn’t speak to) the chaplain to the Korean congregation, I am guessing he is an ethnic Korean raised in Japan, or simply a Korean born priest sent to Japan on mission. Today, because I stayed up so late I had to choose between compounding mortal sin by failing the Sunday Obligation through neglect (nobody forced me to sleep in) or attend an unintelligible Mass at 3 PM – I’m glad I went.
First, I was expecting to meet the kind old Spanish priest, with whom I had a brief but very pleasant chat last time. I was amazed to hear that there was yet another priest who cared for the predominantly Brazilian group – a fifth priest, way out here in this country town smack in the middle of Japan, modern mission territory. He gladly heard my confession before Mass (it’s been a fortnight after all) and gave me some excellent advice for my discernment of a vocation to religious life. My penance afterwards was a powerful experience in grace, and I became aware of the wonders at work in this tiny Catholic community, all of them far from home and perhaps never meeting any other practicing Christians except here, once a week.
And here am I, trying to get my degree over and done with. Here am I, finally in Japan, the year I’ve been waiting five for. A smart-mouthed, know-it-all Third Order who can’t go one day without hurting someone’s feelings, yet dares to think he could become a priest. A Dominican priest at that! Surrounded by all my shiny, expensive toys I can’t even get poverty right, let alone obedience. Above all that I’m a long way to go on the road of charity. Despite all this, Our Lord put me here for completely unrelated reasons, and only five weeks in do I see that my greatest gift in Kofu is the Catholic Church only ten minutes down the hill. Most of Japan can’t even get one priest for the best part of a month, but in that same month I have met five.
What a gift. Deo gratias.