Fr Renzo De Luca SJ with Pope Francis on 18 March 2014 Fr Renzo De Luca SJ with Pope Francis on 18 March 2014 

Pope’s interpreter in Japan is his former student from Argentina

As Japan prepares to welcome Pope Francis on Saturday, Fr Renzo De Luca, SJ, recalls his friendly relationship with the Pope, their time together in Argentina, and what it will be like to act as his interpreter into Japanese.

By Devin Watkins

Pope Francis will be employing a special interpreter while making his Apostolic Journey to Japan on 23-26 November.

For Father Renzo De Luca, SJ, the vagaries of time – or Divine Providence, if you will – have come full circle.

Fr Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was the Rector of the Jesuit Scholasticate where Fr De Luca was studying in Argentina before he was sent as a missionary to Japan.

Thirty-five years later, Fr Renzo is the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Japan. He will translate the Pope’s every word into Japanese for the faithful to follow.

Is he nervous?

“Well, no.”

Listen to the full interview

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Fr Renzo said he has seen the Pope twice in the last 6 years and that he feels “really at home with him.” The last time they met in the Casa Santa Marta, Fr Renzo said the two embraced like old friends.

“When I met him, he said, ‘Hola, Renzo!’ and I said, ‘Hola, Jorge! ¿Cómo estás?, and we were together for the whole time, without any kind of protocol.”

But what about acting as an interpreter?

“When it comes to translating,” Fr Renzo said, “I don’t know how much I will have to work there on the spot. But I’m really happy and honored to do that.” The Pope will be speaking in his native Spanish throughout the visit, so off-the-cuff remarks might proliferate, if past experience is any guide.

Japanese media coverage of Pope’s visit

Fr Renzo said he and other Catholics are amazed at how much coverage Pope Francis’ visit is getting.

He has had so many requests for interviews, he said, that he and another Argentine Jesuit held a press conference, which 38 media outlets attended. Even secular media turned out for it, including the national broadcaster NHK and Yomiuri Shimbun, a national newspaper.

“So many people are really interested, and they have a lot of news. They are following what the Pope says and where the Pope goes. I think the expectations are very high.”

Fr Renzo said people in Japan are wondering what Pope Francis will have to say “to a non-Catholic country like Japan, and also what he’s going to say about peace, atomic energy, and nuclear disarmament. Topics that are very crucial in Japan.”

Changing minds and hearts

Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pope St John Paul II, who visited in February 1981.

That image, according to Fr Renzo, “changed the image that the Japanese people have about the Church.”

He expects this Apostolic Journey to have a similar impact, depending on the Pope’s message regarding "migration, the death penalty, and the high rate of suicide.”

If the local pre-arrival media coverage is any indication, he is probably right.

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18 November 2019, 09:00