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Name: Jesus. Occupation: Friend

German missionary adds twist to Japanese social ritual

Name: Jesus. Occupation: Friend

Redemptorist Father Waldemar Kippes with Jesus' business card reporter, Tokyo

December 20, 2013

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If you have ever been to Japan, chances are you’ve seen businessmen exchanging their cards in a social ritual involving bows and gestures of courtesy. The actions of both the giver and the receiver are an established custom reminiscent of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Redemptorist Father Waldemar Kippes is a practiced hand at such exchanges, but he adds his own unique twist to the procedure. As he hands over his own business card, he gives another one, as well.

This second card bears the name “Jesus.” Job title? “Friend.” Address? “At your side.” Telephone? “Open your heart and talk. 24 hours service.” In one corner the words “you count” have been added. The reverse side offers the same information in Japanese.

Fr Kippes, a German missionary living in Fukuoka Prefecture, came up with the idea of the Jesus business card 30 years ago, thinking it would suit the “business card society” of Japan. He is modest about the impact of the card, joking that the effect is limited to “a surprised expression on the recipient’s face”.

But Father Mitsuru Shirahama of Nagasaki, dean of the Japan Catholic Seminary, is more bullish.

“It is an easily understood expression of what kind of person Jesus is,” he said, and has mentioned it in lectures as an example of the “new evangelization” that is a worldwide focus of the Church.

Oblate Father William Maher, a prison chaplain, had copies of the card printed at a correctional facility he visits and distributed them to inmates.

He said he has distributed the cards along with informational leaflets at Christmas celebrations held jointly by local Catholic and Protestant churches for the prison population, which is overwhelmingly non-Christian.

Toshiko Arai, an 82-year-old resident of Saitama Prefecture, received such a card from an acquaintance.

Arai suffers from phthisis, a disease characterized by the wasting away or atrophy of the body -- the condition a result of being born prematurely. She was married at 23 had had five children, but lost two of them. Now, suffering from lung disease, she weighs a mere 26 kgs and can’t talk for more than five minutes without losing her breath.

However, when she received this card, she felt the strong desire to share “the love of Jesus she was shown in the midst of her extreme helplessness.”

She spent several days writing the story of her own journey as a solace for others. Now, that story is being read by those suffering from illness, many of whom she has never even met.

“If the goal isn’t made clear, proclamation of the gospel will be fruitless,” Fr Kippes said. He recommended that everyone try using these business cards “as one possible means of introducing Jesus” to the world.

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