The Journey is as Rewarding as the Destination

A reflection of GFGC Pilgrimage to Nagasaki

By Eric Tesalona of Catholic Kiyose Parish Church

The very first pilgrimage to Nagasaki organized by GFGC and CTIC was held last July 5 – 7 with 43 pilgrims from various parishes in Chiba, Tokyo, Saitama, and Kanagawa Prefectures.  With Fr. Edwin, CS (spiritual director), Fr. Charlie Pomuceno, OSA (on-site coordinator), with Erlyn Regondon and Nelly Naka (pilgrimage staff), and Mel Kasuya (GFGC Chair), the pilgrimage was a successful journey, spiritually and historically, for all of us.

The first reward was our early morning assembly (8:30 AM) at Narita airport and flight to Nagasaki by Jetstar.  Despite heavy rain in Kyushu a couple of days prior to the pilgrimage, we were blessed with fair weather upon arrival at Nagasaki Airport where Fr. Charlie warmly and joyfully welcomed us.  The long journey by bus going to our first destination, Unzen Hells, was the second reward wherein we prayed the Holy Rosary and learned from Fr. Charlie about Nagasaki`s religion and politics, and about Unzen Hells.  In the bus, Fr. Edwin introduced the theme of our spiritual journey, “Persecution of Christians and the House of God”.  In Japan, Nagasaki was the best of both “worlds”.  Not only a place wherein many Christians were persecuted and martyred during the 16th and 17th centuries, but Nagasaki has been the home of Kakure Kirishitan and is host to around 50 historical churches in Japan.  Significantly. this is where our patron saint San Lorenzo Ruiz died a martyr.

The third reward was our on-site experience of the famous Unzen Hells, a sulfur-smelling and steaming place where the early Christian in Japan who did not renounce their faith were sent to be tortured using boiling water from the hot spring and executed.

We almost missed our fourth reward because of time constraint.  But by the grace of God, we were still able to have the first Friday mass at the Oura church.  This was followed by the fifth reward – accommodations at the Nagasaki Catholic Center, where priests and lay people like us can stay for a night or for few days.

The sixth reward was the spiritual interaction on our first night.  After dinner, we did the Compline (not complain) which is the evening prayer usually said by clergy, religious men and women (seminarians and nuns).  This was followed by group sharing about our personal experiences on being persecuted or oppressed, and how we were able to overcome such maltreatment.  The sharing was quite emotional and although kept confidential among the members of each group, it is alright to presume that everyone turns to the Lord to cope and see ourselves through.

After breakfast on the second day, our seventh reward started with a visit to the Atomic Hypocenter followed by Lauds (not loud), a morning version of Compline at the Urakami Cathedral, before proceeding to the Atomic Bomb Museum nearby.  In these places, we had a closer look and feeling on what really happened during the bombing of Nagasaki.  In the National Peace Memorial Hall for the victims of atomic bomb, we paid respect and offered our prayers to the victims.  This eight reward has left us with every heavy hearts.

After lunch, we headed to our ninth reward, the 26 Martyrs Memorial Shrine (Nishizaka Church).  Nishizaka Hill is another place for torture and execution in public for Catholic Christians.  At Nishizaka Church, we had Adoration, Confession, and Mass.  However, time did not allow us to visit the Oura church museum and instead, we just headed back to the Catholic Center after an hour of free time.  The second day was concluded with the tenth reward of Compline, group sharing about our longings for the House of God and how it fulfills our needs, and finally, a talk by Fr. Edwin that was capped by a touching gesture of camaraderie among participants.

On our last day, nothing was more rewarding than to have started with peace in our hearts.  After the early mass and breakfast, we visited the Peace Park where the Peace Statue stood along with the Fountain of Peace and Peace Symbols Zone which was a row of monuments that were donated from countries around the world.  We even encountered an old man who was a victim and survivor of the bombing.  He was standing at the Peace Bell and was sharing the fear of nuclear weapons.

Finally, our last reward was that we all went back home safely filled with fond memories of new friends and experiences, spiritually-refreshed, and with renewed love in our hearts.