Saturday, September 20, 2008

Three Jesuits Ordained Priests in Japan

There was an ordination ceremony this afternoon (20080920) at St. Ignatius Parish Church, next to Sophia University. Japan has only about half a million Catholics in a population of about 125 million; so it is extraordinary even if simply one Jesuit receives ordination per year. Miraculously, this year there were three Jesuits: a Japanese, an Indian, and an Indonesian.

The presiding bishop was Msgr Peter Okada Takeo of Tokyo. An unassuming, ascetic-looking bishop, he conducted the ceremnony with the required solemnity, as the choir of St. Ignatius Parish bathed the nearly 1,000 attendees in soothing music. About 50 priests concelebrated, including Fr. Sumita, the Jesuit Provincial of Japan; Fr. Karumathil, the Jesuit Provincial of Kerala; and several rectors, diocesan and religious priests of different orders. The gospel passage was Mk 16/14ff, calling on listeners to preach the gospel and baptize. The homily was surprisingly short, just about ten minutes, in which the bishop recalled the 188 Japanese martyrs who will be beatified soon and exhorted the newly ordained to live up to their calling.

Although the mass was at 14:00 and a wayward typhoon was threatening, the Church was full. As is common in Japan, but perhaps unthinkable in India and Christian countries, there were not only Cathoics but also non-Catholics at the ceremony. Non-Catholics in Japan can marry in Catholic Churches, and they eagerly attend Christmas masses, sometimes even waiting for an hour or two! In Japan, non-Catholics are allowed to join the procession of communicants and approach the altar, though they are told not to extend their palm to receive the host but to bow their head and receive the priest's blessings. So when his or her turn comes, a non-Catholic bows reverentially and the priest extends his hand and blesses the person, sometimes uttering words of encouragement.

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