By Devin Watkins – Tokyo, Japan
Rain and wind.
Those two meteorological elements were out in abundance to greet Pope Francis as he arrived in Tokyo on Saturday evening.
He has harbored a personal dream to come as a missionary to the Land of the Rising Sun ever since he was a young Jesuit.
Now that dream has come true, but maybe not as he imagined it at first.
The Pope gingerly descended the stairs of the papal plane, measuring each slippery step with care. A smile lit up his face when he reached the ground.
A missionary’s dream
Perhaps Pope Francis’ wet welcome to Japan was the last hurdle he had to overcome in order to fulfil his long-time desire. It was certainly a symbol of the winding path that brought him here.
The reason Fr. Jorge Bergoglio’s request to become a missionary to Japan was rejected had to do with his health.
He caught a severe case of pneumonia at the age of 21, and had to have surgery to remove a portion of his right lung.
He won his battle after 3 days in critical condition. But the future Pope had to abandon his dream of following in Saint Francis Xavier’s footsteps.
That illustrious Jesuit saint was the first to bring the Christian faith to the Land of the Rising Sun, way back in 1549.
From law to teaching
Pope Francis is already making an impression in Japan.
On the same week as his arrival, Japan’s government made a historic decision related to the Japanese-language characters they use to write the word “Pope”.
For a long time the official characters – transliterated as Hōō – meant “Emperor of the Law”. A similar term is used to designate the highest-ranking official in Buddhism.
But the Catholic Church in Japan uses a different term.
Theirs – Kyō-kō – is more like “Emperor of Teaching”. Japanese Catholics have been asking the government to recognize that term for over 40 years.
The move could be called a sign of goodwill to prepare the Pope’s path in the East Asian nation.
For the relatively few Catholics here, it also represents a recognition of their presence and their role in society.
So, despite his first ginger steps on Japanese soil, Pope Francis is sure to find the bedrock of the Catholic faith firm under the well-worn soles of his black shoes.