I have lived many lives in many places. In a way I think of all these experiences as my “collective home” because that’s where God called me to mission each time.
After growing up a devout Catholic in El Salvador and fleeing home during the civil war years, I lived as a refugee in Canada. That’s where I worked in fruit groves, restaurants, and on construction sites, learning English and trying to survive. Amidst the chaos and disruption, I never lost sight of my goal: to become a priest.
God led me to Maryknoll, and in turn my first assignment as a mission priest in the Philippines. Eventually, my life changed again. For the past ten years, I have served as pastoral caregiver at two parishes in the diocese of Kyoto, Japan: St. Helen’s in Nabari City; and a parish founded by Maryknoll more than 60 years ago, Child Jesus in Iga-Ueno.
These communities are exceptionally diverse. Our parishioners come from many countries—Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, the Philippines, and Vietnam. They find work in factories where jobs are plentiful and the hours long. The dislocation is often a misery, especially for those from Latin America who cannot read Japanese and have their own distinct cultural expressions.
“To ease the loneliness that comes from family and cultural separation, our parishes recreate the feeling of home. We say Mass in English, Portuguese, and Spanish as well as Japanese for our small Japanese Catholic community.”
To ease the loneliness that comes from family and cultural separation, our parishes recreate the feeling of home. We say Mass in English, Portuguese, and Spanish as well as Japanese for our small Japanese Catholic community. We offer the Sacraments in all these languages, too, and we celebrate our communities’ major feast days just as they would in their home countries. It helps that I speak Japanese, Spanish, and English. Stop by any Sunday and hear me give the day’s sermon in three languages—four minutes each!
We are also available for counseling and direction when an immigrant needs help with day-to-day struggles: paying the rent after a job loss, renewing a work permit, or dealing with a family crisis here or back home.
So much of what we do at both parishes rests on the shoulders of our volunteers. Among other things, they bring Communion to the sick, they do the grounds keeping, and a few who are bilingual do translations. They help organize our moments of celebration and our recovery in times of loss. They teach our Bible classes and help prepare the little ones for their First Communion. Without them, I could not be a pastor.
I feel the same way about you. Your prayers are the blessing that nourishes my soul. And your support allows me to serve a community of faith that never loses sight of God’s presence among us. I can only repay you by saying that you are in my prayers every day in two parishes where our Church and the signs of faith are growing.
~ Father Roberto Rodriguez, M.M.