Catholics in Japan are a minute minority, numbering around 536,000, or just 0.42 percent of the population.
But that won’t prevent them from welcoming Pope Francis in large numbers when he makes his Nov. 23-26 Apostolic visit to the country.
“Although the Catholic population is quite small, I think people are looking forward to [his] visit and that it might help them strengthen their faith and the Church at large. It’s going to bring hope,” Oblates of Mary Immaculate priest Father Bradly Rozairo, told Vatican Radio.
Many Catholics turning out to see the pope will not be Japanese, said the Sri Lankan missionary priest who serves as the Delegation Superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Itami City, just north of Osaka.
There is a growing number of migrant workers from countries with a significant number of Catholics such as, the Philippines Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Peru.
“The total [Catholic] population is some dioceses is very foreign,” said Father Bradly.
An acute labor shortage has seen Japan relax its strict immigration laws and allow an influx of migrant workers.
Last year parliament agreed to allow an unprecedented 300,000 migrant workers to be brought in over the next five years, which will likely bring notable changes to some parts of Japanese society.
“Many bishops encourage the Japanese community to welcome migrant workers,” Father Bradly said, adding that missionaries such as he will have an important role to play in this transformation.
He said his ministry is not just about administering the sacraments, it also involves helping migrants or foreign spouses of Japanese citizens overcome social issues such as language and legal difficulties.
“If they don’t speak the language we help them with translation” or find someone to teach them Japanese, the priest said.
Education played a large part in OMI’s mission when the congregation first arrived in Japan in 1948, just after World War II and set up several Montessori kindergartens.
Now they work mostly in parishes, while some also serve as prison chaplains
The most difficult thing about being in Japan is that “people don’t have time to come to church. Here, work gets the priority, not religion,” according to Father Bradly.
Although people respond well to church activities, participation depends on how much free time they have, he said.
It takes a bit of getting used to as a missionary, he added.
Regarding the pope’s upcoming visit, Father Bradly said that “for a country which does not give priority to religion, to welcome a religious leader will be a big blessing. The presence of Pope Francis and his message will help strengthen their faith and belief in Christianity.”
Father Bradly said he hopes that “God may interfere in the lives of people, especially the non-Christians in this country, through Pope Francis.”