Four Good Samaritan Oblates from Western Australia have recently returned from visiting the Good Samaritan Sisters and their Associates in Japan, on ‘a pilgrimage of connection’ which has deepened the bonds of friendship first forged when the sisters visited WA last year.
Bev Agar, Kathy Beeck, Jan Gorza and Elaine Walley, who have been Good Samaritan Oblates since 2016 visited Nara, where the Japanese Good Samaritan Sisters are based, as well as Hiroshima and the Fukushima area, where Sister Haruko Morikawa is currently ministering.
The visit, from April 9-23, came about after five of the Japanese Sisters visited WA last year following the Good Samaritan Sisters’ Chapter Gathering in Sydney.
“We got to spend a few days with them then, both in Perth and New Norcia, last year,” said Jan Gorza. “It was really the start of a great friendship and they mentioned it would be nice to try and do something in return.”
With the help of WA-based Sister Anna Warlow and the Japanese Sisters, the trip took form, and according to Jan, was a deeply touching experience.
“The sisters had planned a lot of sight-seeing for us, but they each took turns in taking us out for the day, which was a great opportunity to spend time with each of them and get to know them as well as see the sights,” she said.
While visiting in the midst of the beautiful Japanese cherry blossom season, the sisters also showed the Aussie oblates some more sombre sights, including Hiroshima, the place where the Allies dropped the atomic bomb in 1945 which brought an end to Japan’s role in World War II but created great suffering for the local people.
They also visited Fukushima, the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster which followed the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
“Haruko works up there with the people, so it was very interesting to see what they are doing, how they are rebuilding their lives,” said Jan.
Kathy Beeck agreed, saying the visit to the township of Minamisoma where Haruko works with the people had a big impact on the Australian women.
“These people still can’t grow anything because the land was all poisoned with the nuclear leak,” she said. “It was total devastation.
“Sister Haruko introduced us to a woman who was coming home from work on the day of the disaster and was told she couldn’t go any further, even though she had to find her 15-year-old son. It was terrible.
“Now, she’s opened up the house where she lives so that people can come and do craft and share stories and she’s bringing that little village to life. It was very touching and inspiring.
“Visiting Peace Park at Hiroshima was also absolutely amazing. There were so many people of different nationalities walking around and it was incredible that this place of war-time devastation has become such a place of peace now.”
Another highlight of the pilgrimage was the opportunity to spend time with some of the Associates of the Japanese Good Samaritan Sisters.
“That was really good,” said Jan. We had a day with them and through translators we talked about what they do as associates and what we do as oblates in WA. Hopefully they might come to WA next year, which would be wonderful.
“I really came away from Japan feeling a sense of gratitude for what I’ve got but also for all we learnt there, about courtesy and respect and peace.
“I feel there’s a strong connection there now and hopefully we can build on that.”
Sister Haruko Morikawa said the visit of Bev, Kathy, Jan and Elaine was a wonderful experience for the sisters in Japan, deepening the shared bonds of being a part of the Good Samaritan family.
“They showed the essence of being Christian,” she said. “While they were here they were willing to serve the people in the area, visiting, caring and helping.
“They really shared the importance of the Good Samaritan spirit and as oblates, they are aware of the responsibility they have to carry on the mission. It was a great learning for us.”
Haruko said the oblates shared their positive and active commitment to the community with the Japanese Associates through exchanging stories and experiences, during which their training in ministry, prayer and study of the Benedictine tradition was evident.
“Another highlight for us was to celebrate Sister Benedicta’s golden jubilee with the oblates during their visit,” she said.
“Sister Benedicta [Michiko Hiu] is sick, so she did not attend the celebration [of jubilees] in Sydney, but she seemed very happy to celebrate it with the oblates from WA.”
Haruko said the visit was one of mutual friendship and learning about cultural differences.
“I believe that friends bring an equal and free relationship,” she said. “It leads us to mutual learning. It was a happy experience for me. We can develop the friendship, I hope.”
For the oblates, the pilgrimage helped strengthen the ties between the WA Oblates and the Japanese Sisters and their Associates, but it also had a deep personal impact.
“We were four women from different backgrounds, joined by the spiritual bonds of belonging to the Good Samaritans when we set out for Japan,” she said.
“We went as strong, spiritual women, but came home much more spiritual. I’m very grateful for the experience.”