Three Korean Lay Missionaries were separately located in three different parishes in Wakayama City, in the south of Japan, after finishing a language course in 2005. I, as one of them, joined a small parish community where a Columban priest worked and was looking for assistance in reaching out to the community through various ministries. I was still struggling with the Japanese language and learning more about their culture but the local parishioners were of great support and helped me to immerse into their society.
Spring brought new life, not only with regards to nature, but within the community as well. Cherry Festival was being celebrated here and there. Students in uniform were flourishing over the street as schools began their new semesters. People would gather under the white shade of cherry trees, enjoying the warm and bright start of the year whilst sharing food from their lunch boxes. The whole country was scattered with pinkish cherry petals and covered with tourists.
I began my missionary journey in a small parish where people were passionate and active in their faith. Japanese tea and simple snacks were provided after Mass and parishioners would catch up with one another while sharing the beauty of the fabulous changes of nature surrounding them. On the way back home after a long day, I used to drop by and sit and sing hymns under a cherry tree in full bloom in the backyard of the church. It was a beautiful and peaceful place to watch over the flowers and see the petals scatter away with the soft breeze.
Easter falls in such a joyful season and the church was packed with parishioners for the Easter Mass. I was surprised to see so many people and was trying to find out who was who when I heard a song start up from somewhere in the church. Later on, I found out it was the voice of a senior parishioner who, standing alone beside the organist, had begun to sing the long Easter Sequence. When I first arrived in Japan, I was shocked to see parishioners singing parts of the Mass, such as the ‘Responsorial Psalm’ alone in front of the congregation as it was always a choir in Korea who would sing this. In the beginning, parts of the Japanese culture such as this surprised and confused me but soon after I really admired the confidence of these people to stand up and sing in front of others.
However, this was Easter Mass! The church was packed with three times the number of parishioners and the song was an unfamiliar long ‘Easter Sequence’. Again, I was amazed by the bravery of this humble parishioner. Ironically, the powerful and inspiring lyrics were deeply engraved by his simple and pure voice and I was fascinated by the song.
Here in Britain, I have recently become a sort of bird watcher. Since the first Covid-19 lockdown last year I’ve heard so many beautiful bird songs whilst out walking or relaxing in the garden. I was amused by various birds and their endless songs. They kept me awake from dawn till late evening and led me to imagine the wonderful world they might see from above during lockdown. During my daily local walks I used to stop to watch their lives carefully and found that I am the same as them, living life in a similar way. They sing as they greet the rising sun, and sit on the top of trees to pleasure the sun set. They call to one another with their lovely songs and respond with fabulous melodies. Adult birds prepare their homes with a hard work and take care of their chicks day and night.
When I listen to their songs, I see the beauty of nature and our Creator. I am able to hear their amazing stories of life and creation and sense the gentle breeze of the breath of God. Since I became their neighbour, I acknowledge that they have been declaring what they see, wayfaring, just like Mary of the Easter Sequence; “The tomb of Christ, who is living, the glory of Jesus’ resurrection; bright angels attesting, the shroud and napkin resting. Yes, Christ my hope is arisen: to Galilee he goes before you.”
I imagine seeing a bigger world from the eyes of the birds, with a different horizon. I thank God, for all the birds braking morning with their passionate songs which leads me to His beauty and goodness.
Easter Sequence in Japanese.
Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems:
Christ, who only is sinless, Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring What you saw, wayfaring.
"The tomb of Christ, who is living, The glory of Jesus' resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen:
To Galilee he goes before you."
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!