The Vietnamese Catholic Community In Japan
Whenever we think or speak of St. Francis Xavier, we think of the great Jesuit missionary to India and Japan. Well, Vietnamese Catholics can never forget the Portuguese Jesuit Missionary Inekhu in Sino-Vietnamese (Ignacio in Spanish / Bá Đa Lộc in Vietnamese) who came to Vietnam in 1533. Missionaries continued to arrive at various times and formed solidly fervent Catholic communities. Along with the faith, they also introduced various results of western civilization such as the printing press, technology, and science. However, their greatest contribution was the Romanized writing of the Vietnamese language. As in Japan, the Catholic Church in Vietnam also underwent periods of persecutions, resulting in 117 canonized martyrs and one blessed martyr among other hundreds of the faithful who courageously died for the faith.
In 2019, Vietnam has a population of 97.5 million. 8% are Catholic. Those of other religions, all living in harmony, are Buddhists (16.6%), Protestants (1.09%), Caodaists (1.16%), Hoahaoists (1.47%) and others of smaller denominations such as Hindus and Muslims. About 45.3% practice traditional folk religion, while 30% are unaffiliated to any religion. The Catholic Church, with its highly structured hierarchy, represents the one Body of the Lord Jesus Christ. This enables Catholics to form various groups to help people grow in faith, hope, and the love of God and humanity, not only in their own country but everywhere around the world. Vietnamese Catholics follow the example of their ancestors by expressing their faith wherever they are, in spite of many difficulties. They attend church regularly and participate in common devotions and various activities.
Recently, there has been great exchange between Japan and Vietnam, which accounts for the presence of many young Vietnamese in Japan. At the end of 2018, there were 330,835 Vietnamese living in Japan, making them the third largest group after the Chinese and South Koreans. They came as technical intern-trainees, working students, and professional workers. About 80% have technical trainee and student visas. Many of them have succeeded in their hope of a better life, while quite a number of others have faced various challenges leading to death, crimes, and suicide.
Beginning 6 years ago, St. Ignatius Church has become “home” for many Vietnamese. The Vietnamese community gathers to celebrate the love of God in their own tongue and culture twice a month at 3 p.m. on the first and third Sundays in the main church. Some 1,100 attend, the majority being young people. Fr. Peter Maria Nguyen Huu Hien, who has been in charge of the Vietnamese Catholic community in Japan from the very start, is the main celebrant on the first Sunday, and Fr. Joseph Nha, SJ on the third Sunday.
To maintain and nurture their faith, various groups have been formed. There are 18 in the Kanto region alone. At St. Ignatius, they have shared prayers, recreations, and fund raising activities for poor children in Vietnam. There are classes for marriage preparation. The community also takes on leadership roles, like organizing Youth Days at regional and national levels.
Wherever they go, the Vietnamese try to give witness to God’s love in the society where they are. The joy and happiness expressed in their faces and their actions attract more and more young people to the Church, including non-Catholics. However, deep in their hearts, while trying to be God’s missionaries, they also yearn for understanding, company, and acceptance. They are confident that God is always with them, giving them strength and courage to obtain their goals in the challenging world, supported by the presence of the universal Catholic community living around them.
By Sr. Maria Quyen, ACI