Seeking the heart of Marguerite Bourgeoys

Atsuko

I am a sister of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame (CND). On April 1, 2013, I left Japan on a one-year assignment to be a member of the International Community located in the Mother House in Montreal.

First, let me briefly introduce the history of the CND in Japan. It was in 1932 that five French Canadian sisters crossed the Pacific Ocean at the request of a Canadian Dominican bishop overseeing the Catholic Church in Tohoku District in Japan. The sisters established a mission in Fukushima City, a small agricultural town located 240 km northeast of Tokyo. Though the French speaking sisters could hardly communicate with the local people, they were warmly welcomed by a small group of Catholics as well as non-Catholics regardless of their religions.

Their missionary work progressed in Fukushima City. They built a new convent building and opened a kindergarten. However, war clouds started hovering over Japan.

In 1941, the Pacific War broke out. The convent was confiscated by the Japanese army and converted to an internment camp for foreign nationals. Some Canadian sisters returned to Canada, while others were put under house arrest and relocated to Aizu, an inland region of Fukushima Prefecture. They had no means of communication with the outside world and were obliged to live in deprivation. What saved them was the help of three Japanese candidates who had refused to leave the Congregation in spite of repeated advice from Japanese priests. They stayed with the Canadian sisters, secretly providing them with food and necessities. They prayed together and waited for peace. The war that started on the feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception finally ended in 1945, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All of the Canadian sisters who were interned in Aizu could now return to Fukushima City. After the war, the sisters took war orphans under their wing. The following year, they opened an elementary school. Among the students were the war orphans.

Since the war, CND schools in Japan have expanded. Now we have a kindergarten, an elementary school, a high school and a two-year college in Fukushima; a kindergarten and a girls’ residence in Tokyo; an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school in Kita-Kyushu. At present, seventy CND sisters including seven Canadian sisters are engaged in educative and apostolic works in Japan

My parents are Catholic and I was baptised as an infant, which is quite unusual in Japan because the majority of Japanese classify themselves as both Shinto and Buddhist. I was educated in a CND school in Kita-Kyushu City for 12 years and studied for 4 years at a university in Tokyo living in the CND student residence in Chofu. It was at the elementary school that I first encountered Marguerite Bourgeoys when I was six years old. What I remember best during my school days is the smile of a Canadian sister of Irish decent. Her bright and kind smile never left her face or my memory.

In the novitiate, I learned the history of the CND and music from one of the five pioneer sisters who came to Japan in 1932. Though she didn’t tell me in so many words about the difficulty and hardship she had experienced when she first arrived and especially during the war, I could sense the reason why she remained in Japan: her strong love for Jesus, Mary and our Foundress. She stayed in Japan because it was God’s will; because Mary was with her; and because Marguerite would have done the same. When I reflect on the sister’s life in the light of Marguerite’s, I seem to better understand Marguerite and her greatness. The sister died one year and 2 months before my first vows and I was given her cross.

After making my perpetual vows, I became a teacher and taught Japanese at high schools in Fukushima and Kita-kyushu. It was a busy time, but interactions with young students were a rewarding experience. Some of our new students were heartbroken because they had failed entrance exams in other schools, but they were warmly welcomed at CND schools, where they learn: you are precious in my sight, and honoured (Isaiah 43:4). Nothing gave me more pleasure than to see them regain their self-confidence and get back on their feet.

However, I sometimes questioned myself. Before entering religious life, I taught at a Protestant school and met many devoted lay teachers. They preach the word of God at morning worship, and then go to the classroom to teach and guide students. What’s the difference between them and a teacher like me, a sister? This question had been bothering me. When I was offered a one-year assignment to go to Montreal, I thought this might be an opportunity to step back from my teaching life, and to reflect on this question.

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After arriving in Canada, I walked around Montreal, map in hand, whenever I had time. I visited museums and churches, starting with Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. I visited Old Montreal where our Foundress opened the first school. I visited the Old Towers of the Grand Seminary where our sisters had taught Amerindian girls. I saw St. Marguerite’s portraits and statues in many churches. Many places were named after our Foundress. Everything I have seen and heard testifies to how dear she is to the people of Montreal.

The historic and archaeological material taught me how hard Marguerite’s life was in her early days in Montreal. I walked around the Old Port of Montreal on November 16, the day when Marguerite landed at the port of Ville Marie almost five centuries ago. The air was already cool. The port looked deserted with most of the trees losing their leaves. Then came an extremely harsh winter!

I re-read Marguerite’s writing and biographies. I could feel between the lines her solitude and fear of the unknown. In her native France, she made a private vow, lived a consecrated life and was involved in volunteer activities. But she chose to leave her comfort zone and had the courage to venture into a new world. Following God’s plan, she devoted herself to the service of the people and to the teaching of the Good News, the Gospel. She founded an extern religious community with companions. Looking back from present-day Montreal to those days in Ville Marie, I was moved more than ever by Marguerite’s courage and extraordinary accomplishment.

There are lots of great people in the world who built a country. The greatness of Marguerite was not only in her contribution to building Ville Marie. It is above all having established a non-cloistered educative religious order for women.

In her Writings, Marguerite writes about the love of a lover. She loved Jesus with this love, and wanted to live always in the presence of God, as a mother who loves her child intensely does not lose him from her sight.[1] Thus, a consecrated life was her natural choice of a way of life. In imitation of the Virgin Mary living with her neighbor, Marguerite lived with women having the same desire, served the people, and spread the Word of God. I think she wanted her community to be a model of human community and a living witness in this world. She desired most deeply that the commandments of love be engraved in her and her sisters’ minds: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mindYou shall love your neighbour as yourself.[2]

Meeting with sisters engaged in various educative and apostolic ministries helped deepen my understanding of our Foundress. I have learned that living her charism is of the utmost importance to the sisters in their process of discerning, finding their vocation and ministry. We have to discern where we are and where we are called, through our dialogues with ourselves, with our superiors, with Jesus, and with Marguerite. What is required of us is to mature as a person and grow spiritually as a religious, as well as to understand the charism and living it passionately.

Because I became too accustomed to a life of teaching in the protective environment of the CND schools, I might have lost sight of “why I was sent to this mission”. My mission is to embrace Jesus and pass along, by words and deeds, the good news that “You are precious in God’s sight. God loves you. You are of utmost importance to God.” As Marguerite wished, my mission is to spread the commandment of love by building warm relationships with my sisters and co-workers. My mission is a total commitment to a consecrated life, and that is what early missionaries tried to pass down to later generations at the risk of their lives.

Missionary sisters have brought many gifts to Japan: the Word of God, the spirituality of Marguerite Bourgeoys, education, religious life… I know I have received many gifts during my stay in Canada. However, when I think of what I have achieved in Canada, I am not sure. But one thing is certain: I talked about Fukushima.

On March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami struck the northeastern coast of Japan. The earthquake completely demolished the convent built by the missionary sisters in 1935.

This unprecedented disaster crippled the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The radioactive contamination caused by the nuclear reactor meltdown has a devastating long-term health impact on the people of Fukushima. Many families left Fukushima to protect their children from radiation exposure. In fact, the number of students of the CND schools diminished a great deal. In our kindergarten alone, 40 % of children left Fukushima. Facing the dire reality, our sisters asked themselves what Marguerite would have done if she had been there, and launched various projects. First, they set up a scholarship program for afflicted students. They rebuilt a kindergarten, which features a playground enclosed by glass walls so that the children can play indoors without being exposed to contaminated air. Some sisters, with the collaboration of a number of dioceses, have a project to send children away from the radiation exposure to vacation sites during the summer holiday. Some sisters regularly visit victims still living in temporary housing to listen to their problems and concerns, or just to be with them. Recently, a group of volunteers joined this project. They offer emotional support to women facing uncertain futures, especially in regard to raising their children under such circumstances.

Last summer I attended the CND Social Justice Network Meeting on behalf of the Japanese province, and introduced, using a PowerPoint Presentation made by sisters in Fukushima, the current status of Fukushima and how Japanese sisters are dealing with the difficult situations.

The sisters and associates of the American province have set up a support project “the Blessed Sacrament CND Fukushima Solidarity Project. It is a great moral and financial support for our sisters. The American sisters have demonstrated a real sense of compassion, which was so dear to Marguerite. They remind me that I am really a member of the worldwide CND family.

In April, I go back to Japan and will be assigned to Fukushima. I would like to continue to be a liaison between the Fukushima and North American sisters. I am returning to Japan embracing the heart of Marguerite Bourgeoys that I found in Montreal.

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Tragedy in Ottawa – Perspectives Daily

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Today on Perspectives, tragedy strikes Canada’s capital of Ottawa, Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience and the feast of St. John Paul II.

Coast to Coast: October 12 – 17

Here’s what’s been going on in the church in Canada this week:

National events have been obscured by the Synod of Bishops in Rome. Archbishop Paul Andre Durocher of Gatineau is there representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has been posting to his blog “Sing and Walk” on a daily basis. Check it out for an insider’s explanation of the Synod.

In Edmonton, parishes are finding new and creative ways to reach out to kids.

In Ottawa, where the supreme court is debating over Canada’s  “assisted suicide” or euthanasia laws, one expert says the opposition to euthanasia needs to be framed in non-religious terms if it is to win in court.

 

Pope Francis’ Homily for Thanksgiving Mass of Canadian Saints

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Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Mass of Thanksgiving for the Equivalent Canonizationof Saints François de Laval and Marie de l’Incarnation
Sunday, 12 October 2014

We have heard Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces…” (Is 25:8).  These words, full of hope in God, point us to the goal, they show the future towards which we are journeying.  Along this path the Saints go before us and guide us.  These words also describe the vocation of men and women missionaries.

Missionaries are those who, in docility to the Holy Spirit, have the courage to live the Gospel.  Even this Gospel which we have just heard: “Go, therefore, into the byways…”, the king tells his servants (Mt 22:9).  The servants then go out and assemble all those they find, “both good and bad”, and bring them to the King’s wedding feast (cf. v. 10).

Missionaries have received this call: they have gone out to call everyone, in the highways and byways of the world.  In this way they have done immense good for the Church, for once the Church stops moving, once she becomes closed in on herself, she falls ill, she can be corrupted, whether by sins or by that false knowledge cut off from God which is worldly secularism.

Missionaries have turned their gaze to Christ crucified; they have received his grace and they have not kept it for themselves.  Like Saint Paul, they have become all things to all people; they have been able to live in poverty and abundance, in plenty and hunger; they have been able to do all things in him who strengthens them (cf. Phil 4:12-13).  And with this God-given strength, they have the courage to “go forth” into the highways of the world with confidence in the Lord who has called them. This is the life of a missionary. And then to end up far from home, far from their homeland; many times killed, assassinated! As has happened, in these days, to many of our brothers and sisters.

The Church’s mission of evangelization is essentially a proclamation of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Missionaries have served the Church’s mission by breaking the bread of God’s word for the poor and those far off, and by bringing to all the gift of the unfathomable love welling up from the heart of the Saviour.

Such was the case with Saint François de Laval and Saint Marie de l’Incarnation.  Dear pilgrims from Canada, today I would like to leave you with two words of advice; they are drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews, but thinking about the missionaries, they will be of great benefit for your communities.
The first is this, this is what the Word of God says: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (13:7).  The memory of the missionaries sustains us at a time when we are experiencing a scarcity of labourers in the service of the Gospel.  Their example attracts us, they inspire us to imitate their faith.  They are fruitful witnesses who bring forth life!

The second is this: “Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings… Do not therefore abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.  For you need endurance…” (10:32,35-36).  Honouring those who endured suffering to bring us the Gospel means being ready ourselves to fight the good fight of faith with humility, meekness, and mercy, in our daily lives.  And this bears fruit. Remembering those who preceded us, who founded our Church. The Church of Quebec is prolific! Prolific in many missionaries, who went everywhere. The world was filled with Canadian missionaries, like these two. Now the advice: that this memory does not lead us to abandon forthrightness.

Do not abandon courage! Perhaps… no, not perhaps. It is true. The devil is envious and does not tolerate a land that is so prolific in missionaries. Our prayer to the Lord is that Quebec returns to this path of fruitfulness, to giving the world many missionaries. And that these two who—so to speak–founded the Church in Quebec assist us as intercessors; that the seed which they sowed may grow and give fruit of new men and women with courage,  with foresight, with a heart open to the call of the Lord. Today we must ask this for your homeland! And they from heaven will be our intercessors. May Quebec to being that source of brave and holy missionaries.

This, then, is the joy and the challenge of this pilgrimage of yours: to commemorate the witnesses, the missionaries of the faith in your country.  Their memory sustains us always in our journey towards the future, towards the goal, when “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces…”.
“Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Is 25:9).

Perspectives Daily – The Canadian Bishops Visit Ste. Anne de Beaupre

Today on Perspectives, the bishops of Canada visit the Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre and we talk to Archbishop Murray Chatlain.

Perspectives Daily – Cardinal Archbishop of Havana Addresses Canadian Bishops

Today on Perspectives, day two of the 2014 CCCB Plenary Assembly featuring the day’s activities, interviews with Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, the Papal Nuncio to Canada, and a look back at events from this past weekend here in Quebec.

Perspectives Daily – New Papal Nuncio Addresses Canadian Bishops

Today on Perspectives, day one of the 2014 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Plenary Assembly, with messages from the president of the conference and the Papal Nuncio. We also take a look at the 350th anniversary celebrations of Notre-Dame de Quebec.

Coast to Coast: May 26 to 30

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Here is some of what has been happening across the country this week:

 

In Vancouver, Archbishop Michael Miller wrote a letter calling the faithful of the west coast to take action against prostitution by offering women a way out. The letter comes months after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the nation’s laws do not protect prostituted women.

 

In St. Paul Alberta, the funeral of Fr. Gilbert Dasna was held at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Fr. Dasna was killed in the parish rectory. The killer is believed to be the same man who was himself killed in a gun battle with police hours later.

 

In Winnipeg, Archbishop Richard Gagnon has launched his Episcopal blog. In the most recent post he shares his participation in the recent royal visit.

 

A global summit about healthcare for mothers and their children was held in Toronto. Vanessa Santilli reports on progress made and the challenges that still lie ahead.

 

In Halifax, the archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth is undertaking a major renewal process.

Coast to Coast: May 10 to 16

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Here’s what’s been happening across the country this week:

Vancouver has a new seminary. Six men from the Neocatechumenal Way are the first seminarians preparing for the priesthood at Vancouver’s new Redemptoris Mater seminary. 

In St. Paul, Alberta a priest was shot and killed by a man who was later involved in a shootout with police. Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton asks for prayers after the incident, and the diocese of St. Paul has funeral details

In Winnipeg, retired Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie met with Christian communication and news professionals to talk about transmitting the beauty of faith through their work, and why 12 step adddiction programs don’t work without God. 

And Toronto’s Catholic Register is in the Holy Land to cover next week’s papal visit

Perspectives Daily – Thurs. May 8, 2014

Today on Perspectives, the 2014 March for Life from Ottawa.