Japanese Catholic says 2011 tsunami a shower of blessing | Global News

Japanese Catholic says 2011 tsunami a shower of blessing

By: - Arts and Books Editor / @LitoZulueta
/ 05:13 PM January 28, 2016

CEBU CITY—A tsunami of blessing.

This was how Keichi Sugawara, Japanese survivor of the deadly earthquake and tidal wave that hit Japan on March 11, 2011 characterized the aftermath of the disaster for the small community of Catholics in Ofunato of the Prefecture of Iwate.


Offering a “testimony” to 15,000 delegates from 71 countries attending the International Eucharistic Congress here, Sugawara said that because of the disaster, his small Catholic parish was forced to seek out other Christians, including Filipino women married to Japanese, in the largely Buddhist or Shinto Japan, so that they were able to help one another.

Now, the parish that used to have only 100 Catholics is a vibrant community that has doubled its number.


“I’d like to believe that our small parish in Ofunato, a community gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, has been an instrument of God to realize His plan,” Sugawara told delegates.

His voice sometimes choking in emotion, Sugawara recounted now Ofunato and other towns along the Pacific coast of Northeast Japan were swept away by the tsunami.

“In a matter of an hour after the first waves hit the shores of our town, our peaceful town was flattened, its rows of houses gone,” Sugawara said. “Black mud and debris of bottles, steel, wood and sea creatures covered our once beautiful town.

“Hundreds of our townspeople died. Almost all of us lost a friend, a loved one, home, possessions, treasures and workplace.”


Sugawara said many Catholics bitterly protested their faith silently.

“Why did God allow this to happen? Each of us believers must have asked that question,” he said. “Without receiving an answer, we who survived the earthquake and tsunami gathered as usual on that Sunday following the twin-disaster and celebrated the Eucharist.”

He said that before the disaster, the Church had 100 members of whom only 25 regularly attended Sunday Mass. Of the Massgoers, two were Filpino women whom they sought out so they could learn of their fate.


The Filipinos survived and the parish learned that there were other Filipino women in the neighboring town who wanted to come to Mass but weren’t able to because they were married to Buddhists and Shintoists.

“The women we met then contacted other Filipino women they knew and in no time we had quite a company,” Sugawara said. “They welcomed us and prepared dishes for us to partake of. They told us how they escaped from the tsunami, how they fled to higher places with their newborn babies, how they lost the loved ones of their husbands, how they saw their houses and possessions being swept away by the tsunami, how cold it was on that day and how they felt afraid and insecure. All these they related with tears in their eyes.”

He said Filipinos from Tokyo, including a priest and several nuns, later visited Ofunato and celebrated the Mass with them in Tagalog.


“Our church was filled and we saw the joy beaming from everybody’s face as they sang hymns and heard the words of the bible and prayers in their native language,” he said. “Many of them also shed tears of joy.”

Soon even the Shinto or Buddhist Japanese husbands began driving their Filipino wives and children to church.

“The husbands were becoming cheerful too, infected, as it were, by the joy of their spouses,” said Sugawara.

“Two priests, a Filipino and an Indonesian, came to Ofunato and set up the Support Center for Foreigners,” he added. “Thanks to their reaching out and visits, more new faces came to our Sunday mass. They also started presiding a once-a-month mass in Tagalog.”

Soon too, the Filipinos were “not treated as foreigners,” said Sugawara. Filipino women were made to do the readings  in Japanese, while the Japanese sang Tagalog liturgical songs.

He said the Filipino parishioners later formed a community group, Pagasa, and Caritas Japan established a center to welcome volunteers from all over the world to assist in relief and rehabilitation.

Sugawara said he was asked in a newspaper interview if he viewed the earthquake and tsunami as a punishment from God.

His reply: “No, we can never fathom the mind of God. But I know that come what may, God is with us. He loves us and I truly feel that he guides and protects us.”

Addressing the IEC delegates, Sugawara said the tsunami resulted in a shower of blessing.

“From the ruins of the March 11, 2011 disasters,” he declared, “we have been reaping and are still gathering a bountiful harvest. They are a harvest of love, solidarity, and friendship.”

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