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(RNS) Upcoming trips to Asia highlight Pope Francis’ push to globalize and reform a Catholic Church that is still very much centered on what happens in Rome.


  1. This evokes powerful memories of my eighteen months in Japan, midway between Tokyo and Yokohama, during the Korean episode in the early 1950s. There was only a touch of the oriental influence in anything liturgically “Catholic” then. I remember the many Japanese acting just like Western Catholics at Masses in the Maryknoll chapel on the top floor of a department store on the Ginza in Tokyo. The only difference was the kimonos and split-toed slippers some wore. I thought that was orientally quaint, my “Catholicism” so far from home.

    The same liturgy made me feel falsely comfortable. With the added touch of the very dominantly Japanese congregation, the church seemed truly “universal.” The native congregation dressed like Japanese, but acted liturgically like Westerners. How many of those indigenous worshipers were as comfortable as I?

    The essence of liturgical meaning had not crossed the ocean with me to be adaptable to Japanese culture. As I look back, I realize the Japanese were forced to adapt to our Western ways, rather than being respected for their own.

    I attended the evening Paschal celebration on Holy Saturday evening, 1952, at a Japanese seminary/parish conducted by Canadian and Japanese Franciscans in Den-en-cho-fu, not far from Shibuya. I often attended there. In spite of being a long advocate of liturgical change, I was left wondering why I was unable to follow the liturgy with my old Roman missal. It wasn’t until some time later that I realized those Canadian missionaries and Japanese clergy were following the new liturgy allowed for Holy Saturday. This advocate for change was behind the times.

    We must allow the people in the Orient and other cultures to be themselves. Conversion should never mean losing oneself, considering another culture superior to your own. “To thine own self be true,” even in religious faith, even in liturgical practice. The church must adapt, not the other way round, if genuine faith is to be found in conversion.

    • Addition. The only thing I recall that seemed orientally indigenous in my attendance at liturgies during my time in Japan was at an ordination of Japanese Franciscan priests in a church in Shibuya, August 15, 1952. The apostolic nuncio at the time was Maximilien de Fuerstenberg. He ordained the young Japanese friars. I remember him as a royally handsome man, but my biggest impression was the native way of swaging many colorful banners from the ceiling of the church. At the time, I thought that was a great allowance to the natives. But the liturgy was thoroughly Roman.

    • Chaplain Martin

      Thank you for sharing your experience in Japan with the Catholic observances. To quote you: ‘“To thine own self be true,”’ even in religious faith, even in liturgical practice. The church must adapt, not the other way round, if genuine faith is to be found in conversion.” This is also true in the Protestant realm. For too long missionaries were sent of other nations not to be a servants of God but to be in charge of any work. When missionaries were thrown out of some countries there was not native leadership prepared to take over.

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    Regards James Scanlan

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