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Cathedral volunteers are showing the way

Kagoshima church becomes unlikely tourist spot

Nakamura (left) and Kojo (right) in front of the information center Nakamura (left) and Kojo (right) in front of the information center
  • ucanews correspondant, Japan
  • Japan
  • December 13, 2012
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St. Francis Xavier came ashore in Japan about 950km southwest of Tokyo at Kagoshima City, which today is a notable tourist destination in Japan. It is perhaps fitting, then, that there is a stop for a tourist bus directly in front of the city’s St Francis Xavier Cathedral.

As a result, the cathedral has become an source of assistance not just for solace-seekers, but for sightseers as well.

The volunteers who work at the cathedral’s information center say meeting and helping so many different kinds of people has helped strengthen their life of faith.

“We double as a tourist information center, so we have pamphlets provided by Kagoshima City on hand. We’re often asked directions and how to get to various tourist spots,” says Atsuko Kojo, 71, a St. Francis Xavier parishioner. “I’m afraid I’m not much help, though.”

Kojo continued, “Since the cathedral is so close to the bus stop, we get lots of curious people dropping in. The city and the church help each other out.”

Visitors at the church are of all stripes. There are pilgrims, tourists and schoolchildren. A steady traffic keeps the volunteers busy, especially when people want tours of the church itself. Even homeless people frequently come by, so they keep a ready supply of fresh onigiri (rice balls) to hand out.

The first visitor center volunteers were recruited 13 years ago after the cathedral was rebuilt in 1999, some 450 years after St Xavier’s arrival in the country. The center is staffed throughout the day and closes around 8pm. Some of the volunteers are parishioners from other parishes, and include local history buffs and people conversant in other languages.

Kimiko Nakamura, 68, was baptized a few years ago, and signed up to help almost immediately. She likes the fact that the work gives her the chance to meet new people.

Nakamura has the sense of being on the ‘front lines’ of evangelization, but this isn’t an explicit goal.

“I don’t feel a need to evangelize here, but while we chat visitors sometimes say, ‘Maybe I’ll try going to church.’ I’ve had a person come from another prefecture, who said, ‘I want to be baptized at St Xavier’s.’ I just told them it didn’t matter which church they were baptized at. I was so happy, though, to get a message from this person after the baptism.

“It’s been 15 years since I was baptized myself. I never thought then that I’d end up doing this sort of thing. Actually, I’m kept pretty busy, when you also factor in other church-related activities I’ve found myself involved in,” says Kojo with a laugh.

Even now, Kojo gets flustered when she finds herself trying to help someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, but she has realized that a welcoming heart always gets a message across.

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