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A road to faith that began in a dry cleaner's

Japanese proprietor to be baptized during Easter vigil

<p>File picture: <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-149397545/stock-photo-female-owner-reading-receipt-by-clothes-rail-in-laundry.html?src=knKEzJiWRVA8S-pDqzttng-1-11" target="_blank">Shutterstock</a></p>

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  • ucanews.com reporter, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • March 17, 2014
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Takuma Furukawa, 60, is the proprietor of a Fukuoka City dry cleaning shop founded long ago by his father, now deceased. During the April 19 Easter vigil, Furukawa will be baptized. These two facts, it turns out, are not unrelated.

More than 50 years ago, Fukuoka’s new St Sulpice Major Seminary (now part of the Japan Catholic Seminary) began sending to the elder Furukawa’s shop the seminary’s liturgical vestments for cleaning.

Furukawa left his position at a major trading company some 20 years ago to take over the shop for his father. Since then, he has visited the seminary four times a week for work.

There is a lot to clean: stoles, albs, cassocks, altar linens; the list goes on. One by one, Furukawa learned the meaning and use of each article from the religious sisters working at the seminary.

His trips to the seminary continued, and eventually Furukawa developed a custom of stopping before a statue of Mary to bow his head and pray.

Two years ago, Furukawa received two small figurines of Mary from Sr Yoko Murakami of the Holy Infant of Chauffailles congregation, with the instruction, “Give them to a person you want to give them to, or to a person who wants them.”

That night, Furukawa was talking in his shop with a Catholic customer, Nanako Hagiwara, who related the story of a cousin who had been hospitalized with cancer. Her cousin’s faith was so deep, she said, that when she visited him in the hospital, she felt she was the one being consoled.

Furukawa thought of the figurines of Mary that he received earlier that day and believed that his customer’s cousin might benefit from receiving them. So he gave them to Hagiwara.

“I got the clear feeling that God and Mary both exist, and I was moved to joy,” Furokawa recalled. “I couldn’t help but pray with all my might that that person might find some improvement in health, however slight.”

A few days later, Furukawa related the whole story to Sr Murakami, and immediately the nun said, “Come on, let’s go and pay her cousin a visit in the hospital, right now.”

They found the patient Yuji Hirata lying in a hospital bed; a cross hung nearby. Hirata whispered to Sr Murakami, “I want to participate in Mass.”

Within a few days, Furukawa was back in the hospital room, this time with Augustinian Fr Mitaru Toyama. The priest celebrated Mass there with a small gathering, which included Furukawa.

Furukawa felt the truth of the words, “At all times the Lord extends the hand of salvation to those who believe in him.”

“To think that a person like me could … bring happiness to someone … well, I was truly happy.”

After that, Furukawa started attending Mass on weekday mornings.

“If sister hadn’t given me those small figurines of Mary, I doubt I would have become a Catholic,” he said “I am convinced that Mr Hirata [who died recently] taught me to believe in God and then handed me the baton of faith.”

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