20th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Church Building (The History Behind)
At the end of World War II, many Japanese had completely lost their purpose for living and were suffering as a result. That was the sort of era in which St. Ignatius Church was born. Fr. Bruno Bitter and Fr. Theodor Geppert were responsible for the church’s building structure, while Fr. Herman Heuvers provided its spirit.
The church brought life, joy, and a purpose for living to many Japanese people. Baptisms, Masses, hymns, Bible study groups, social welfare activities, music and chorus services, church funerals, weddings, etc. were conducted at St. Ignatius Church. All these activities were supported by priests of the neighboring Sophia University. Their cooperation and that of lay people helped the church to flourish.
However, while the spirit which Fr. Heuvers had provided over the course of forty years was energetic, the building itself had to be constructed with less-than-ideal materials due to scarcities directly after World War II. It was said that should a strong earthquake hit Tokyo, St. Ignatius Church would be in danger of collapse. Thus, the need for a new building emerged. Because many people had fallen in love with the old church building, many were opposed to tearing it down and building a new one. Furthermore, others wanted the new building to look just like the old one. However, the result was that it would be best to create a structure which could hold many worshippers. This idea won the support of many and provided a renewed energy for the rebuilding project among the whole group. This sense of responsibility and vigor is still influencing us to this day, bringing life to our community. Not only has the number of Japanese parishioners increased, but the number of foreigners is also increasing. Due to the amazing cooperation among them, St. Ignatius Church, along with the Society of Jesus, the laity, the priesthood, and Sophia University are all greatly influencing vast numbers of people.
The many people involved in the construction of the new St. Ignatius Church building pressed onward toward concluding the project, even in the midst of numerous problems. I shall now write about some of the experiences they had which left a particular impression on me.
First, there was a problem regarding the Crucifix image behind the altar. Many first-timers and children visiting the church were of the opinion that the image of our Crucified Lord held too strong an impact. Therefore, we designed a cross which was built into the wall behind the altar, and placed upon it a seemingly “floating” statue of the Resurrected Christ, thus providing an image of Christ beckoning to the whole Church to join in his mercy.
Secondly, in order that some vestiges of the old church building would be left for those nostalgic for them, we strove to re-use the stained glass, baptismal font, statues of Jesus and Mary, and many other things. Thus, it was resolved that these things would be placed in the crypt of the new building.
The third problem was one which truly caused us many headaches. We struggled to figure out how to invite all the benefactors once the new church building was completed. After consulting the wisdom of many, it was decided that we could not invite every one of the benefactors. Instead, we decided to write the names of all the benefactors with a brush and to place the scroll in the wall beneath the feet of the Resurrected Christ as a dedication, where it remains to this day.
Regarding the Mass celebrating the relocation of the church, Fr. Ikejiri made the following proposal: “The Church is not just a building, but a spirit. So, let’s transfer the spirit of the old church building into this new church building. The Mass for the relocation of the church should start in the old church building until the intercessory prayers. Then we shall move the spirit of the old building into this new church building. To symbolize this, let’s carry the statue of Our Lady as an omikoshi (Japanese portable shrine) from the old church building into the new one. Then we can finish conducting the Mass from the offertory until the dismissal in the new building. This will shift the spirit of the old church building to the new building, and thereby to vast multitudes of people.” With this proposal from Fr. Ikejiri, all our worries were resolved at once, and all involved approved his idea wholeheartedly.
On the day of relocation, we held Mass eight times, each time beginning in the old church building and finishing in the new one. At each of these Masses, we carried the statue of Our Lady as an omikoshi from the old building to the new one. Because of this, the two buildings truly became as one. With great joy in their hearts, participants conducted a truly marvelous relocation ceremony. In the photo album of the old church building called “Ooki na Ki no Fune” (large wooden ship) there is a chronological table showing the progress from “St. Therese Church” (the ancestor of Kojimachi Church) up to the present day. I am deeply grateful to Sr. Michiko Kimura of the Society of St. Paul Sisters for all her efforts in compiling this chronological table. I would like young people to know this historical timeline for the sake of future generations.
When I reminisce on the old church, there is simply no limit to the memories that come to mind. However, the thing which brings me the most joy these days is knowing that everyone is receiving God’s blessings, walking in union with the older priests, and living as a vibrant community.
(Fr. Cangas was born in 1926 in Spain. He was at Kojimachi Church from May of 1966 until March of 1982 as assistant pastor. From April of 1982 until March of 1998 he was pastor. He is currently assistant pastor at the Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church.)
（taken from the June issue of Magis and translated from Japanese by Ryan Hicks）
by Fr. Luis Cangas, SJ