People show wonder and gratitude for Pope Francis’s visit to Japan whilst Catholics bear witness to the solace of faith. Fr Lorenzo Manerba has been a missionary in the Land of the Rising Sun for 46 years.
Nagasaki (AsiaNews) – Fr Lorenzo Manerba, a 74year-old PIME missionary from Desenzano del Garda (Italy), has lived in Japan for 46 years. He was present at the Pope’s visit to Nagasaki where he was struck by the appearance of sunshine instead of the forecast rain, the festive mood at the Mass of 30,000 Catholics and over 300 priests, and the down-to-earth attitude expressed by Pope Francis. Here are his impressions:
Leaving Tokyo at dawn on Sunday 24 November, Pope Francis was welcomed in Nagasaki at the Peace Park under pouring rain, like on the day before when he got off the plane at Haneda airport. After the anti-nuclear message, he went to the nearby Monument to the 26 Martyrs, where Fr Domenico Vitali gave him a warm greeting. At noon, at the baseball stadium, the sun came out; miraculously it can be said, because poor weather had been forecast.
At the start of the ceremony, Pope Francis made a remarkable appearance on the popemobile amid the enthusiastic crowd, shaking outstretched hands and hugging new-born babies. For me, the Mass with 300 priests from all over western Japan and about 30,000 people was a foretaste of heaven. I interviewed one of the participants, Fr Sekiguchi Shichiro, a 76-year-old Franciscan, who is chaplain at Nagasaki’s Catholic hospital (picture 4).
How did you experience this day with the Pope in Nagasaki?
I was worried about the weather, but when I went to the stadium, I was entranced by the crowd that filled the stands and shouted with joy when the sun appeared and the Pope arrived. During Holy Mass, with a heart overflowing with joy, I had the honour of giving communion to an impressive number of faithful. The Holy Father seemed weary, but his voice conveyed a message of strength and courage to anyone who listened to him. I didn't notice time go by.
John Paul II came to Japan in 1981, Francis is here now. How were these two visits?
When John Paul II came 38 years ago, I was a new priest, and the first meeting with the Holy Father impressed me more. I was in Tokyo then, not in Nagasaki, and only at that time did I hear about the terrible snowfall of Nagasaki.[*]
On both occasions the Pope's visit was a grace, an immense consolation for the city of Nagasaki and the show of faith of the Japanese Church was strong. On this second occasion, the persona of the Holy Father seemed to put at ease all those he met, and for people of different faith it was a providential occasion. Anyone in his or her heart will have exclaimed: “I am happy to have met the Pope!”
What did the faithful and ordinary people expect and what task did the Pope leave them in Nagasaki?
The expectations of the people of Nagasaki were met. They hope that the experience of their suffering can be the beginning of an age of peace for future generations. The people of Nagasaki have truly learnt from this terrible experience (the nuclear holocaust), especially with respect to the suffering of others.
[*] Due to the cold that enveloped the city and his cold fingers, the Pope struggled to give communion to the faithful under the snow.