Augustinian Charism in Japan | From the Desk of Fr. Rob

June 10, 2023

Dear friend of the Augustinians,
I recently had the honor and pleasure to visit my Augustinian brothers in Japan with Fr. Aldo Potencio, O.S.A., our Province Secretary/Treasurer. This was my first time in Asia, and it was an exciting, faith-filled, educational trip. While there I represented the Order as Prior Provincial, continued my visits to every Augustinian community in the Province, and attended the priestly ordination of our brother Atsushi Kuwahara, O.S.A.
I traveled in the footsteps of Augustinians going back centuries. Our Order first arrived in Japan in 1602. We weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms since the warrior-rulers of the time were suspicious of anyone who placed loyalty to God above loyalty to their own rule. The Augustinians had a brief window of great persecution in which they managed to build five parishes before all mission work was banned and all foreigners banished in 1614.
It wasn’t until 1853 that Japan re-opened itself to foreigners. A cathedral opened in Nagasaki nine years later, inviting Japanese Catholics out of hiding. The Augustinians returned in 1952 at the invitation of the bishop of Nagasaki, who wrote “I wish to have your Fathers here, since Augustinians were among the first who suffered for the name of Christ in this land.” Since then, we haven’t left.
Japan today is less than one percent Catholic. I went in with the expectation that it might be hard to see and uncover all the pockets of faith in the country, but I was pleasantly surprised. Our men are doing incredible work. They’re serving in parishes and in two elementary schools, sharing the good news of the gospel as we are back home in the U.S. Our Japanese brothers also embody another Augustinian core value: hospitality! They could not have been any more warm and welcoming. They helped us to navigate unfamiliar territory while introducing us to many of their students, parishioners, and friends. We concelebrated Mass with our brothers in their communities. We ate with them and prayed the daily office with them. We felt at home, even with the language barrier.
When we arrived to Fukuoka for the ordination, it was very much a joyful celebration. Fr. Atsushi, who had begun his journey with us as a Pre-Novice in Pennsylvania, studied with our Augustinian brothers in Chicago and completed his studies in Japan. He has built many relationships across the globe. Several friars from the states (including some of Fr. Atsushi’s classmates and formators) traveled to Japan for Fr. Atsushi’s ordination, and diocesan priests who work closely with us in Japan also attended. All total there must have been 50 priests and religious from around the world concelebrating. It was a proud day to be an Augustinian. It renewed my faith in the power of the Holy Spirit working within all of us all around the world. When we visited Nagasaki, it was clear to see that a piece of the city’s history includes the devastation that happened in 1945. There are also 26 martyrs who gave their lives for the faith in Nagasaki in 1597, not long before the Augustinians arrived. And so, although Japan (and specifically Nagasaki) isn’t a particularly Catholic part of the world, there is a depth of faith and of overcoming suffering that inspires all of us. Maybe it isn’t a part of their religion, but it’s part of their history and they celebrate that history. It was an educational and spiritual immersion to witness all of this. Let us pray for the continued strength and faith of our Augustinians in Japan. I am personally grateful for their hospitality and friendship. If you find yourself in that beautiful country, be sure to pay a visit to our parishes in Fukuoka, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Nagasaki and rejoice in our ties as a global Augustinian family. (And be sure to delight in all the sushi you can – you won’t be disappointed.)
Peace always,
Fr. Robert P. Hagan, O.S.A.
Prior Provincial