April 2011

Hope and the cherry blossom

May our Christian resurrection hope be our way of ‘staying with’ the people of Japan long after the media withdraws their attention, writes Good Samaritan Sister Veronica Hoey.

BY Veronica Hoey SGS

Recently I was privileged to be with our sisters in Japan – with Sister Hiro Kageyama during the last days of our Good Samaritan presence in Sasebo, near Nagasaki, and with the community in Nara.

Although Sasebo is in the south of the country on Kyushu and Nara is central Honshu, I was grateful for the opportunity to be with the sisters at this time of uncertainty and insecurity in Japan.

I was particularly moved as I reflected on the significance and the coincidence of one event in Japanese history of mammoth proportions and, the other, an event in our Good Samaritan history.

The era of our Good Samaritan presence in the Diocese of Nagasaki has come to a close at a time of nuclear threat. Over 65 years ago our congregation responded to the invitation to minister in Nagasaki after atomic bombs destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Sister Hiro and I visited Archbishop Takami in Nagasaki on the eve of our departure from Sasebo and we reflected with him on the extraordinary service of Good Samaritan sisters for over 65 years. On the wall of his office hangs a print of “The Good Samaritan” by Australian artist, Justin O’Brien. Archbishop Takami expressed deep gratitude for the ‘Good Samaritan’ story lived out with such compassion and generosity by the sisters.

For some Japanese people, the recent devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis have triggered raw memories of the atomic bombings of the war. These same stories were shared with those first sisters to minister in Japan.

Understandably, the mood of the Japanese people seems reserved. There is a pervading sense of waiting – waiting for news of survivors, waiting for a resolution to the safety of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

For many, patient waiting in hope has turned to anger – frustration with not only the government and the Tokyo electric company, but also a growing realisation and regret that consumerism and a desire for the biggest and the best are at the root of the radiation threat.

I wondered, as I conversed, read and observed, how much the magnitude of these events would mystify people. Even during the two weeks I was in Japan, new stories of loss, survival and endurance, and hundreds of names of the dead published each day in major newspapers, brings the reality of the devastation to people in other parts of Japan. What is emerging is the implication of these events for the social fabric of this country which is so rich in tradition.

I sensed from my conversations with the sisters and others some feelings of helplessness, not knowing what to do or how to respond. And yet the ordinary person in parts of Japan not directly affected is by no means powerless. They are doing mighty things in response to an almost impossible task of restoring hope and rebuilding communities.

The community of sisters in Nara have decided lights out by 9:00pm each night and a candle vigil prayer followed by candles only for the evening each Friday. This may seem simple but what a significant act of solidarity. The sisters have also welcomed a mother and her four-year old son from Tokyo and have offered hospitality and respite from their isolation indoors because of radiation levels.

It is cherry blossom season now in Japan. Some of the usual festival activities in Tokyo have been cancelled but I noticed in Nara, as each day passed, many more cameras flashing and picnics enjoyed.

May our Christian resurrection hope be our way of ‘staying with’ the people of Japan long after the media withdraws their attention. And may the Japanese people continue to marvel at the beauty of the cherry blossom and welcome the hope that comes with spring.

Veronica Hoey

Good Samaritan Sister Veronica Hoey's ministry focus has been in the area of special education for people with disabilities, particularly in the faith formation and religious education of students with special needs. She is currently a member of the leadership of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

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