THE OLYMPICS THAT (Almost) WAS!

News from Japan

Olympics 2020 illuminated at night 

 

The Archdiocese of Tokyo had been preparing for it for some years already. In fact, a Special Committee was formed for the purpose. The original idea was so that each parish may be able to address the spiritual needs of the many people who would come to Japan for this international event.

Some 195,000 athletes were expected to come, not counting their support staff, local and foreign spectators. Several thousands of specially made rosaries were ordered by the Archdiocese as souvenirs to those who would come, to show “omotenashi” (Japanese hospitality).      

Church Advisory in the Gate

Hall ready for Olympic Walk-ins

Olympics Rosary Souvenirs 

Then came the pandemic. It stretched to more than a year and a half. Tokyo Olympics 2020 was moved to 2021! Since then, the government has declared three States of Emergency in Tokyo and these reverberated in the Church. Strict protocols… online registration for Masses, live streaming of Sunday Masses… And just two weeks before the Opening of the Olympics, the number of coronavirus cases rocketed. The public was split about holding or not holding the Olympics. Parishioners were ambivalent about receiving visitors. They were worried about the possibility of infections, especially the emerging variants. The 4th State of Emergency was imposed. The Tokyo Archdiocese canceled all plans related to the Olympics and Paralympics, firm to its commitment that “we will not be infected, nor will we allow others to be infected.”

We wondered what if, in spite of the announcements, some from the Olympic Village or other foreign visitors come and we find them already in our doors? What shall we do? How do we receive them? Our office, the John de Britto English Center was especially concerned, as it was the “international service arm” of the Parish.

An Ad-Hoc Committee Meeting was called to brainstorm such a possibility. Where do we place them? Who will receive them? How?  “But Sister, they will be placed in a ‘bubble!’ not allowed to leave their area!” came an update from one youth Olympic Volunteer. “Besides, there might be no spectators at all.” “It is better to have some contingencies rather than none at all!” we, the coordinators countered, feeling responsible.

In the few remaining days before the Opening, the English website prominently posted the ADVISORIES both of the Archbishop of Tokyo and our Pastor. The Parish Council posted enlarged printed copies in prominent places such as at the main gate and entrance door of the church. We had extra staff manning our telephone line in case there would be inquiries. Registration forms for walk-ins were made. Translators were on call. Our big hall and two smaller chapels were readied, including a facility for live streaming so that visitors would not be mixed in with the regular parishioners attending the Sunday Masses. In every Mass, we added an Intercessory Prayer, “for an orderly, peaceful. and safe Summer Olympics.” For all these to function, we had to look for additional volunteers!

Did the Olympic visitors come? Two came, aboard a special taxi with the name of their country emblazoned with the Olympics logo. They stayed only a few minutes after dropping by to pray and take pictures outside. They preferred not to write their names. Some reportedly came on weekdays, wearing Olympic jackets and shirts. There were no telephone inquiries throughout the period. How many viewed the live streaming of the Mass? We do not know. But there was a remarkable increase in the number of hits on the English website.

August 15, Sunday. Alarmed with soaring statistics of infected individuals, deaths, hospitals overwhelmed with lack of beds and personnel, etc. reported every day by the authorities, another directive was issued by the Archbishop.  Everything is suspended, again. We were in the “Fifth Wave.”