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Filipino Missionaries in Japan  Past and Present 

Filipino Missionaries in Japan, Past, and Present

OCTOBER. MISSION month. Let it not be eclipsed by the still ongoing worldwide pandemic. What is it like to be a MISSIONARY in a foreign land? In the article below, I share with you a “glimpse”, as I reflected on the life of a colleague and the years of “partnership” I had with her in the Japan Mission. She passed away on September 28, 2021, in the Philippines because of COVID. For privacy, let us call her Sr. M.


Let me begin by quoting from Luke 10: 25-37: “It is written: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Sr. M and I came to Japan as Religious Missionaries almost at the same time. I, in 1996 and she in 1997 - a span of 25 years of missionary work for me and for M, 2 decades, until she went back to the Philippines several years ago.

Sr. M and I worked together in the Diocese of Yokohama in the early years of the Year 2000. We were partners in the Filipino Pastoral Team for Migrants, accompanying our kababayans in their faith life as well as on how to “survive” the challenges of the Japanese society, so different from ours. We organized church-based communities, strengthened fledgling ones, and helped in uniting conflictive groups. In our partnership, I would be the” lead” in Leadership Formation activities and Spirituality, such as giving Advent and Lent retreats. But M was the “troubleshooter”, the expert in handling “cases” – dramatic and dangerous ones – protecting Filipinas from the Yakuza, rescuing victims of domestic violence, handling TNTs (without a visa), assisting in all kinds of documentation in the Philippine Embassy and City Hall, looking for and providing shelter, even for other foreigners, so they do not become homeless, comforting the depressed and those entertaining suicide, visiting the terminally in hospitals, facilitating even the burial of those who died, to the extent of bringing home to grief-stricken families the ashes of several..

Sr. M was tireless, courageous, persistent, resourceful, with great compassion. For her, there was no day or night if somebody was in crisis. She struggled a lot in dealing with Japanese authorities – the police, government staff, Embassy officials. Sometimes she would confide in me her stresses and with a twinkle in her eye would say, “Nihonggo wakarai kara!” (because I don’t know Japanese!) She was practically a “no read, no write, no speak”, in Japanese, an” illiterate” in Japan. Perhaps that was why she had such empathy for migrants.

I truly felt her passing away as she was my “nakama” (peer) with whom I have shared so many adventures, challenges, and joys of missionary life. When I heard M died of COVID, I was shocked. But later, as I reflected and prayed over her “ending”, I was not surprised. She died like thousands of others, suffering the pain of ruthless COVID that had brought havoc and so much pain to families, including migrants and Religious Congregations. Physically she was weak. Years in the mission had taken their toll. She had in the last months of her life become “vulnerable”. Sr. M reminded me of Luke 10:25-37, the story of the GOOD SAMARITAN…

Sr. M, it was a great privilege to work with you on the Japan mission. Now rest from earthly labors. But, your work is not finished. Now that you are with God, pray for us, the less than 40 Filipino missionaries, priests, sisters and lay, accompanying thousands of migrants in Japan. You know what it is like!

Japan Mission