Hiroko – Part 1

Photo: canva.com/diodam10Photo: canva.com/diodam10

I have spent fifty-odd years in Japan and met all sorts of people: the wonderful, the beautiful, the evil and the ugly, people who stood by me and those who took a grave dislike to me - but all helped shape the priest I am today. One of those wonderful people was Hiroko.

I was never close to her. She kept her distance. When I first met her, she was in her fifties. I had heard that she was married to a non-Catholic Christian and that she had a daughter who did not seem to be around. She was regular enough at Sunday Mass, though at times she would disappear for months.

She had the glorious habit of coming into Mass just as I was starting, sitting down in the back pew and, as I would be imparting the final blessing at the end of Mass, darting out of the church with the speed of a swallow leaving her nest after feeding her young and disappearing into the city air.

That all changed one day, a day that is forever etched in my mind. It was a Monday morning. Hiroko came to morning Mass, as usual, a few minutes late, and sat down in her usual spot. I could not help but notice her for she was wearing huge sunglasses that covered most of her face. “Women and their crazy fashions” said I to myself and went on with the Mass. Hiroko did not receive Holy Communion that morning. That surprised me.

After Mass, I took off my vestments and returned to the Chapel to say a few prayers. To my amazement, Hiroko was still there. “She probably wants to go to confession,” I said to myself, so I approached her and sat down beside her.

Then she poured out her soul and guts to me. “I cannot take it any longer. Last week my husband was as drunk as a skunk again. He beat me, kicked me, spat on me, berated me, and tore some of my hair out. He even tried to choke me to death and told me to get out of his house.

Then he fell into a deep stupor. He still has not come out of it. I was desperate. I rang my older sister at the other end of Japan and told her everything. She told me to take a few belongings and come to her place as her children had all grown and moved out. Plenty of empty rooms, she said. So, I have decided to do as she said. I cannot take it any longer”. Then she broke down sobbing.

After a few minutes, she took off her sunglasses and when I saw her two black eyes and facial cuts, I knew that the glasses had nothing to do with fashion. She was covering up her wounds. She told me that whenever she was missing for months, she was waiting for her wounds to heal before appearing in public.

“Hiroko,” I said gently to her, “do you remember the first reading of today's Mass?”

“Oh yes, it was so comforting.”

The first reading of that morning Mass was that of God appearing to Abram and saying to him, “Leave your country, your family and your house and go to the land I will show to you. I will bless you, and all nations will be blessed because of you.”

I said to Hiroko, “This is no coincidence. You came here this morning a broken woman and you heard those words spoken to Abram years ago, and God was speaking today to you as He did to Abram 4,000 years ago.

He is telling you to leave this your home and go to the land He is preparing for you. This land is your older sister's land. Go in God's name. Be no longer a slave. I order you to go.”

“Yes, I will go. First, I will go to the travel agent and buy a plane ticket and then pack a few belongings and go,” she said and thanked me.

For the next few days, I was filled with peace and a deep gratitude to God that He had chosen me to be the one to lead that broken woman out of slavery to freedom, out of misery to new hope, and from darkness into light. Yes, it was good to be a missionary in Japan, I thought.

That inner holy feeling came to an abrupt end the Friday morning of the same week at morning Mass when Hiroko re-appeared wearing smaller-sized sunglasses. I could hardly wait for Mass to end. She waited around for me.

After devesting, I went down to her and said, “What happened, Hiroko?”

Columban Fr Joe Brooder lives and works in Japan.

Listen to "Hiroko – Part 1"

Related links

The Far East - New Subscription

Code : 4



Annual subscription to The Far East magazine, published by St Columbans Mission Society 8 times per year. It features mission articles and photographs by Columban Missionaries from the countries where they work.


See all products