Assumption speaks to Japan’s Catholics, missionary says

Nagoya, Japan, Aug 13, 2013 / 02:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Feast of the Assumption is an important celebration for Catholicism in Japan because of its link to both death and eternal life, according to an Australian missionary priest in Nagoya.

“The Catholic communities spend this day in paying tribute and attending Mass, and the names of all the deceased in the family are read aloud, causing the ceremony to sometimes go on for hours,” said Fr. Keith Humphries, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who operates the Mikokoro Center in Nagoya.

The feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation, falls on Aug. 15, this Thursday. The date coincides with the Japanese commemoration of the nation's announcement of surrender in World War II.

The Japanese surrender came after the U.S. used atomic bombs on two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing as many as 246,000 people. The anniversary of surrender is observed in Japan as a day of mourning for war dead and praying for peace.

The Assumption has taken root in Japanese Catholicism because it correlates with “Japanese traditional culture in commemoration of death” as the Church celebrations the assumption of Mary into heaven, Fr. Humphries told CNA.

After Assumption Mass is said, Catholics in Japan hold a memorial program, and the faithful spend their day in praying, chanting, and table fellowship.

“This is a strong element of faith,” Fr. Humphries said, adding that Japanese culture “correlates” the Assumption with eternal life.

The Mikokoro – or Sacred Heart – Center hosts three Masses each Sunday, and about 500 people attend each Mass, he continued.

“A large group of the younger generation, as well as children, are visibly active with their families in the Church.”

The Japanese are “wonderful, with a prayerful, meditative heart,” Fr. Humphries reflected.

“Japanese people have the same spiritual needs as others … and God is present in the midst of these people in their local culture.”

Christianity was first introduced to Japan on Aug. 15, 1549, when the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier landed at Kagoshima.

Despite its 450 year history in Japan, Christianity has never gained more than a toehold there, remaining a “Western” religion, with the Church trying to dialogue with the Japanese and to inculturate.

Only about one percent of Japanese are Christians. Most are Shinto or Buddhist, or have no religion. In the Diocese of Nagoya, Catholics represent only 0.2 percent of the population.

The Japanese “can’t get over the thought in Christianity that God is a close friend,” Fr. Humphries said. “But, when they encounter this reality, it hits them and their life changes.”

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