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Japan church harnesses Facebook to speak to the masses

Parish reaches foreign community with multi-lingual communications

Japan church harnesses Facebook to speak to the masses
Each Mass includes translations in languages including English, Korean and Vietnamese correspondent, Tokyo

April 15, 2013

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A church in Ota, about 70 kms north of Tokyo, may just be the most foreigner-friendly place of worship in Japan. Thanks to the power of Facebook, this church prints a weekly bulletin in seven languages not including Japanese. Versions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, Korean, Vietnamese and the Philippines official language Tagalog are available every Sunday.

The content is always identical including plans for Mass, parish news, a tally of the previous week’s collections and on the back, a message from the pastor of Saitama diocese. As a native Korean, Father Kim Dae-youl was fully aware of the problems posed by the multi-cultural nature of his diocese.

“I want all our foreign parishioners to feel that they are just as much members of Ota church as the Japanese people here,” he says. “But we can’t form a single community if we always attend Mass in different languages.”

Two years ago, Fr Kim set up a Facebook account to create a point of contact with the large population of foreigners living in the parish, many of whom already actively used the social networking site.

He noticed that many were able to write and communicate online in basic Japanese as long as it was written phonetically using romaji, the Roman alphabet.

Fr Kim set up a volunteer translation team comprising different nationalities who communicate via Facebook using romaji. The result was an information-packed bulletin which encourages foreigners to attend the Japanese Mass and the whole parish coming together as a single community.

“This was [done] to fulfill my role as pastor, to form a close bond with the international community. That was the biggest goal,” says Fr Kim.

More than 1,000 parishioners are registered at Ota, about 99 percent of them Japanese. But when you add the number of unregistered Catholics here the numbers swell to at least 5,000 people, according to estimates.

Some members of the translation team live overseas or are otherwise physically separated from Ota. As part of the process of forming a local church community, friendships are being forged internationally and across different cultures which no one in Saitama diocese thought possible at the outset, says Yuko Negishi, the church’s social communications director.

During Mass, a projector is set up at the front of the church and information on the readings and hymns – as well as Romanized texts of the Japanese prayers and responses – are all projected on a big screen.

One Sri Lankan woman, 32, attends Ota with her husband and child. There is no Tamil translation, as yet, but there is English.

She says: “I find that I can really get into the [Japanese language] Mass: It feels like I belong to this community.”

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