Among Navy Families in the Land of the Rising Sun

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From the Land of the Rising Sun (Japan), we share this chronicle of the recent popular mission we carried out at a United States Naval Base:

As it is right and just to give due honor to our nation. It is likewise a holy endeavor to reach the souls who are far away from home serving our country. For “the best service we can offer our brother is evangelization, which helps him to live and act as a son of God, sets him free from injustices and assists his overall development.” (Documents of the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Puebla, 1979) The call “to extend the Incarnation ‘to all men, in the whole of man, and in all the manifestations of man,’” is none other than “a work for man’s integral well-being by showing him his nature, his dignity, vocation, inalienable rights, freedom and eternal destiny by achieving the goal of his faith, salvation of souls.” (Constitutions, ns. 5 and 14) What more could we aspire for our armed forces, those who give their lives for the protection of our nation, if not for the salvation of their souls?

This Lent, from February 19-28, 2024, we were invited to the United States Naval base in Sasebo, Japan, by the Catholic Navy Chaplain, Fr. Rene Pellessier. We were asked to give a series of talks and help facilitate a Family Retreat Day on Saturday, February 24th. Being that our apostolate was carried out at the Naval Base, most of the trip was spent with the American families and sailors.

The first day began with a tour of the base by Father Rene. The base, which shares the port with a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s base, has dry docks for ship maintenance, large fuel tanks for the aircrafts and ships, and many buildings for the maintenance of the vessels and well-being of the personnel located there. There is also a school for the children on the compound. The US Marines and hired contractors also work alongside the Sailors, fulfilling distinct services aboard the ship. 

Typically, US Sailors, Marines, or contractors who are deployed overseas bring their families to live near the base. Others may marry a Japanese spouse, or remain single. The sailors often deploy on a ship for 4 months, leaving their spouse and children at their home in the port city. Depending on which ship is currently assigned to base determines what families you may have around. If a ship moves base permanently, so do their families. Many Naval families move bases every three years. Furthermore, the Catholic Naval Chaplains are transferred more frequently, with the maximum stay on a base of only three years. Fr. Rene was just assigned a little over a year now to this naval base and has faced considerable challenges. The instability and constant adjusting to new cultures and base communities is certainly a heavy cross these families and chaplains are carrying as they strive to build a Catholic community.

Our apostolate began with the Friday evening Stations of the Cross. The following day we held the Family Retreat Day on base. About half of the families registered at the Catholic community attended the retreat.  The day began with a simple introduction and competitive minute-to-win-it games. Even parents joined in on the fun! We then transitioned to the first talk for adults and activities for kids. The talks of the day were focused on mercy; while the children’s activities were centered on the beatitude: “Blessed are the Merciful.” At midday, Father gave a catechetical instruction on the vestments and the parts of the Mass, then celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Several adults shared their gratitude for the talk Father Rene gave before Mass in order to better participate in this sacred act of worship. Following lunch, we continued with a time of preparation for Eucharistic Adoration and confession. During the Holy Hour, all the parents and teens were able to go to confession! The young children also went given a talk on adoration and making visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and were able to adore the Lord present in the Eucharist before benediction. We wrapped up the afternoon with another talk for adults and competitive games outside with the children and youth.

The next day we were present at the Sunday Mass on base, after which we gave a small talk to the Catechism program on the consecrated vocation. It gave some time for the kids to ask questions and learn about consecrated life. Most of them have never been around religious.

The last day on base, we had the opportunity to go aboard the USS NEW ORLEANS (LPD-18), an amphibious warfare ship, for a morning tour. We were able to walk through ship, guided by a Navy Chaplain (Protestant), a Marine Chief who works on the ship, and Father Rene, who is both a Naval Chaplain and a Lieutenant. We began by making our way up to the bridge to the flight deck where the main control of the ship is located.

Here, the Protestant chaplain explained to us that each night, when most of the sailors are heading to bed, the chaplain prays an evening prayer over the main intercom of the ship. Commenting on this, Father Rene mentioned that, as chaplains finish their evening prayer, they often have a final phrase they say before they tell the shipmates goodnight. Father’s last ship assignment was on the USS TRUMAN, the ship bears the phrase “Give ‘em hell” (a phrase relating to President Harry Truman), so father would tell the sailors each night, “Give ‘em heaven, Padre’s out. Goodnight Truman.” We laughed, but it is certainly true! The priest, in virtue of his office is to guide souls to the homeland of heaven, to bring them Christ, the sacraments, and the presence of God! For the presence of the priest and the gift of his ministry aboard these ships is of great necessity.

Afterwards, we made our descent to the lower levels, which included more of the operating facilities of the ship all the way down to the well deck. This amphibious ship is made not only to have helicopters land on the deck, but also to lower its well deck for launching or receiving smaller boats underneath the ship.

Finally, after the tour we concluded our last evening on base with the Holy Mass, a talk on Prayer, the Holy Rosary and dinner with those who had come. We pray that this short mission on base may help strengthen these families in their resolve to form a community, although diverse and changing, which is founded upon Christ, the Rock, and no other foundation can anyone lay. (1 Cor 3:11)

Land of the Rising Sun

While also in the southernmost island of Japan called Kyushu, we were able to see several holy sites that mark the Nagasaki region. This island first reaped the fruits of the holy missionary, St. Francis Xavier, and shortly afterwards bore testimony to the holy martyrs, St. Paul Miki, St. Felipe de Jesus (first Mexican martyr), and their companions. Our pilgrimage included the sites of the martyrs St. Paul Miki, and Companions, the Oura Church where the “hidden Christians: manifested their faith publicly after 250 years, the Urakami Cathedral, which was destroyed during the atomic bomb of 1945 and later rebuilt, and the Gardens of the Immaculata, the Lourdes grotto and monastery built by St. Maximillian Kolbe.

Our final day in Japan concluded with a climb up to the Lourdes grotto, giving thanks to Mary for all the graces received during this time of mission, for the souls we encountered, and for the reign of Mary in this Land of the Rising Sun. We especially ask her maternal intercession upon the many faithful men and women of our country that serve at home and abroad. By their testimony and fulfillment of their duties, they are called to build up the Kingdom of God where His name is little known and honored. May Mary, our sweet Stella Maris, guide these souls towards the homeland of heaven. ¡Viva la Virgen! ¡Viva la misión!

                                                                                           In the Incarnate Word,

                                                                                                   Mother Miriam Almah and Sr. Marie du Sacré-Cœur

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