1999-01-12 00:00:00

A Japanese Redemptorist priest´s sabbatical in the Philippines turned into a permanent ministry here that includes evangelizing Japanese nationals through encounters with Filipino communities.

Since he arrived in Manila in 1973, Father Toru Nishimoto of Kyoto, Japan, has counseled hundreds of married Filipino-Japanese couples and facilitated visits of Japanese students to poverty-stricken areas in the Philippines.

The 65-year-old priest also established a scholarship program for Filipinos that has helped more than 26,000 students pursue various professions and vocations including the priesthood.

Beginning with teaching Sunday catechism to Japanese families in Manila between his classes at the Jesuit Ateneo de Manila, Father Nishimoto went on to visiting jails, hospitals and nightclubs frequented by Japanese tourists.

"When I reported to (Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila) at the end of my sabbatical leave, he welcomed me to (his) house saying, ´Father of the night, welcome to the house of Sin,´" he told UCA News.

He said the cardinal knew of his work at nightclubs, asked him to stay and assured him that as long as he was cardinal of Manila, the Japanese priest could continue his apostolate in the archdiocese.

Father Nishimoto officially began serving Manila archdiocese in 1975. He said the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of the Philippines asked him to extend his program´s services to all of the Philippines in 1990.

According to Father Nishimoto, the Pre-Evangelization Program office offers Japanese nationals "a Christian experience in a Christian country."

Aside from caring for troubled Japanese in the country, the priest counsels couples before marriage and conducts a youth exposure program for Japanese students.

Figures at his office indicate that intermarriage between Japanese men and Filipino women increased from 650 couples in 1987 to 6,840 by 1997.

Father Nishimoto said that he visits such couples who settle in Japan twice a year as a way to protect the faith of the Filipino spouse.

"Most Japanese have no sense of God," he said, adding that he has organized groups in Japan similar to the Philippine-based Couples for Christ to monitor the marriages and build a community of married couples.

In 1982 Father Nishimoto established a scholarship program that served 40 students. By 1998 it had helped 26,297 Filipinos from elementary to college levels. He said 150-160 students in the program graduate from college yearly.

"Today we have 3,000 scholars, and 1,000 of them are in college," Father Nishimoto added.

"The reason I started the scholarship program was to let Japanese benefactors be awakened to faith in God by encountering Catholic youth in the country (Philippines) who are materially poor," the priest explained.

He said he also initiated exposure trips for Japanese nationals so his compatriots could experience life in the Philippines through an exchange program for teachers and students and visits to materially poor communities.

Father Nishimoto said that the trips "aim to give Japanese (participants) a chance to rediscover their hearts through an encounter with a different country."

In 1997 he hosted 40 groups of 7-40 participants each who interacted with farmers, fisherfolk and other sectors on different islands of the archipelago.


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