Christ calls, Asians respond

Lent series 2023


Japanese Protestant daughter introduces mother to Catholic Church

By Junko Ito

March 31, 2023 10:32 AM

Kazuko Nabeshima was never religious but curiosity about her daughter's religion led her to the Catholic Church

Kazuko Nabeshima (right) poses for a photograph with Father Michael Nguyen Xuan Vinh (center) and her sponsor Hatsuko Ikema (left)

Kazuko Nabeshima (left) poses for a photograph with Father Michael Nguyen Xuan Vinh (center) and her sponsor Hatsuko Ikema (right) (Photo: Junko Ito)

Kazuko Nabeshima was born 70 years ago in Nomozaki at the southern tip of the Nagasaki Peninsula, a town now part of Nagasaki City. But was “never religious” despite her peninsula housing many churches.

She left Nagasaki after graduating from school to take up a job and lived for more than 30 years without any contact with a church. The turning point came some six years ago when her only daughter Yumi, who lived nearby, decided to move with her family to Okinawa.

"I knew little about Okinawa...But even though I didn't know anything or have any connections there, I was excited about moving and I thought Okinawa was a good place."

And, Yumi welcomed Nabeshima’s “desire to be part of her family."

After the move, Yumi unexpectedly became a Protestant Christian and quit her job as a medical nurse to involve herself in church activities on weekends and holidays.

"I felt isolated as I couldn't talk to my daughter. I was worried if it was alright to be so obsessed with religion," Nabeshima said.

However, it prompted Nabeshima to find out about the religion Yumi was “so obsessed with" and attended a service at Yumi’s church.

Yumi’s church was far from home and Nabeshima wanted to try a different church. Yumi recommended the Catholic church close to their apartment in the town of Nago in Okinawa.

For almost a year and a half, Nabeshima visited the Nago church.

She found two parishioners who particularly welcomed her. "They put me at ease with their look. They welcomed me without treating me as an outsider."

When Nabeshima attended Sunday Mass, she felt “the church is a good place.”

Since then, Nabeshima has attended Sunday Mass every week.

She eventually began to attend the daily Mass celebrated by Father Michael Nguyen Xuan Vinh, who came to the Nago church in June 2022.

“At Mass, it’s like coming into direct contact with God through the priest, and I feel heaven. My body is getting older and older, and I can't believe that I pray like this. Is this what you call a blessing from God?"

Nabeshima said she felt "blessed" to have met Hatsuko Ikema, who always sat next to her until she got used to the Mass.

Ikema’s "calming warmth" prompted Nabeshima to ask her to be her baptismal sponsor.

“There are many things I don't know, but I think the Bible is wonderful. When I was taught that Jesus taught us how to pray by saying, ‘Pray like this, “Our Father in heaven..."’ I especially envied the people who lived with Jesus at that time."

Nabeshima said she is the “type of person who gets nervous, and at work, I always wore a sort of emotional armor."

However, through warm encounters at church, "blood circulated again into my hardened head and heart," and she felt she was being brought back to life, Nabeshima said.

Nabeshima said she was a sickly child and her older sister, who died of lung cancer seven years ago, took care of her from a young age. She had a difficult childhood, having an alcoholic father and did not get along well with her mother, she said.

“I always neglected my father, and even after he died, the only time I would remember him was when I made traditional grave visits, but now I pray every day that my parents will be accepted by God."

“I feel Jesus saves me from my sins and the emotional wounds from childhood which made me live separate from others and condemn others in my heart.”

A parishioner suggested Nabeshima take the same baptismal name as her sponsor Hatsuko Ikema, which is Maria Goretti. The saint died after forgiving the man who stabbed her.

Nabeshima will receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil at the Nago church on April 8

At dinner with Yumi and her grandson, the mother, and daughter recite different prayers. “My grandson, who is in high school, fidgets,” she said.

Nabeshima is happy that she and her daughter are following in Jesus' footsteps while walking their separate paths.

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