In 1990, the Archbishop of Okinawa Japan was in Singapore and called for Japanese Catholics to come together.
Today, the Japanese Catholic community has about 25 members officially registered.
Despite being a relatively small group compared to other foreign Catholic communities in Singapore, they still hold weekly meetings and other activities.
CatholicNews recently spoke to Mrs Akiko Holmes, 46, the main coordinator of the community here, to find out more about them.
The community’s activities
Currently, the community does not have regular Sunday Masses in Japanese but they have Bible sharings at the Church of St Ignatius every Wednesday at 10am.
“People come and go, [so keeping] the community is a challenge,” said Mrs Holmes.
Mrs Rumi Christian, 41, a member who attends the weekly prayer meetings, shared that she had “stopped going [for the meetings] for a few years, but because they kept this prayer group continuing even with one or two people, that’s why I came back”.
The two main sacraments that the community sometimes celebrates in Japanese are baptism and First Holy Communion.
However, as catechism classes are not held regularly to prepare people to receive these sacraments, members may need to join local parishes, despite language barriers.
The community does not have an official chaplain or a spiritual director.
But Mrs Holmes said that St Ignatius’ parish priest, Msgr Philip Heng, has been looking after the group.
Msgr Heng has also baptised a few Japanese people through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).
Mrs Holmes added that Franciscan Friar Derrick Yap from the Church of St Mary of the Angels also celebrates Japanese Mass for them a few times every year, as he can speak the language.
In an email interview, Friar Derrick shared that he felt his “main role at the moment is to celebrate Mass in Japanese for the community”, even though he can only preach in English.
When a Japanese priest visits Singapore, sometimes “they can ask him to celebrate [a Japanese] Mass,” Mrs Holmes said. However, she added that in the past three years, no Japanese priest has come to Singapore.
“We can’t raise the money to call [a Japanese] Father, and even if we had the money, the attendance is not good,” Mrs Holmes said.
Friar Derrick said, “Perhaps the [local] parishes can help create awareness that there is a Japanese Catholic community meeting regularly. This would facilitate Japanese Catholics living here to become part of a faith community, especially those who are not fluent in English.”
He also suggested other activities that the community could consider.
“Besides Masses and Gospel sharing, they can perhaps conduct some adult faith formation courses in Japanese. Those who are fluent in English can easily access the courses in the parishes, but those who are not can then make use of the programmes organised by the community,” Friar Derrick said.
He added that they could also “involve the youths and young adults more. If they are not a part of any communities in the parishes, they may be able to form one within the Japanese community”.
Annually, the community tries to “raise funds as a Japanese community”and for the Jesuit Refugee Services.
Mrs Holmes said that they sell handmade candles, Christmas decorations and Japanese souvenirs at the Church of St Ignatius in November, before the Christmas season.
With regard to the Singapore archdiocese, Mrs Holmes said, “We feel gratitude and we feel supported. The Church gives us a place to meet and share, and we just want to give back to the Church.”
She told CatholicNews, “If you have any Japanese friends, let them know about our group so that they can join us!”
By Clara Lai