Theological shorthand

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My missionary road has been influenced by a small incident many years ago.

I was missioned to Sakitsu community on the off shore island of Amakusa in southern Japan. To many from the mainland it seemed a quaint fishing village so tourists visited.

One such tourist saw me in the street and asked a local, “Who is that foreigner?” (The word for ‘foreigner’ in Japan is literally ‘an outside person’ - and often not used as a compliment). The answer came back to me before the day was out. “He is not a foreigner, he is our priest.”

This answer gave me family feeling with our community. This answer, over many years of pondering, has influenced my missionary road.

I as a priest am not way up there on a pedestal. Yes, I come from New Zealand with a different culture, language and way of thinking. But baptism has given us all the same Father, so we are truly one family, brothers and sisters.

I have been called by Christ, as his gift, to be a priest. No big deal!

Others in our community have their gifts. I try to elicit those gifts, encourage them in their use and delegate.

My calling is to unite all, especially in our Eucharist. Now, much later, I find that this is called in theological shorthand: ‘subsidiarity‘.

I feel at home with my people and I have a sense that they feel at home with me.

I do urge them every Sunday to be missionaries in their own milieu. I am not a foreigner, I am their priest.

Columban Fr Barry Cairns has been a missionary priest in Japan since 1956.

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