A picture of Mother Teresa that hung in Igarashi’s cell now hangs in his bedroom
Hiroshi Igarashi's path to the Church began in prison, where he was introduced to Christianity—and, especially, to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He has harbored a deep respect for? that holy woman ever since, and these days makes room on the wall of his ?small Tokyo apartment for pictures of her. Some of the pictures previously hung in his prison cell. Normally,?that wouldn’t have been allowed, but Igarashi appealed to the prison? administrators on that point and finally obtained permission. One? night, a corrections officer patrolling his cell block asked him, “Hey, do? me a favor and take that picture down. Her eyes are scary.” Igarashi ?replied, “They’re only scary because you’re a sinner!” Now that he is a free man again, Igarashi has started a group in Tokyo called “Mother House.” It is dedicated to helping those in prison turn their lives around and re-enter? society when their term is up. In addition to taking its name from Mother? Teresa, the group also bases its activities on her mentality and on the? Bible. With three criminal counts and nearly 20 years in prison on his ?record, Igarashi knows the reality and all the problems of life behind bars. “Many prisoners are isolated and starved of love. What these people need is someone who will ?support them with love, but there’s no one doing that," he says. "Prisoners have no one to go to for advice, so they give up on ?themselves. Their time behind bars just hurts them more, and they get worse.?” Igarashi speaks from his experience as he too gave up on himself at one point. When he was jailed for a third time, his family cut off all ties with? him. He was contemplating suicide, but just then a cheerful? Japanese Brazilian was detained by the police. The man prayed often and? talked to Igarashi about the Bible. That was how Igarashi first started reading scriptures. One verse in? particular stood out: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9:4)” To ?Igarashi, it sounded as though Christ was asking him personally, “Why do you ?commit sins against me?” That became his moment of conversion. He prayed with all his heart, crying ?aloud, “I’m sorry!” He realized that when Jesus died on the cross, he was ?taking Igarashi’s own place there, and he sobbed uncontrollably. A? corrections officer, thinking him at the point of suicide, did everything he ?could to console the desolate man. Igarashi’s introduction to Mother Teresa also came in prison, from? a book he ran across by chance. He was immediately convinced that ?“this person is the real thing” and wanted to go and learn from her; only ?later would he discover that she had already died. Fortunately, he ?did have a chance to meet with some members of the religious society she founded, the Missionaries of Charity. He met with many others from the Church before his sentence was up, ?including bishops, priests, and religious sisters. The late Cardinal Seiichi? S. hirayanagi offered him a correspondence course introducing him to the? Catholic faith. A Protestant lawyer took it upon himself to act as Igarashi’s ?guarantor. On his release, Igarashi set about turning his belief into practical action with the Mother House, which held its inaugural meeting last month.? Archbishop Takeo Okada expressed his support with a personal message. These days, Igarashi’s phone starts ringing early in the morning with inquiries about the Mother House and ?it doesn’t let up all day. He gives the work all he has, striving to? imitate Mother Teresa’s way of love.