My Buddhist Family
By Fr. Rudy Fernandez, sj
I would like you to meet my friends Akihiro and Noriko Yoshida. They are special. They both come from traditionally Buddhist families. Akihiro’s mother is a very devout Buddhist. Noriko received her high school and college education at a school run by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
I first met Noriko at the English conversation class I was teaching at a community center in the evenings. One day I happened to mention in class that I wanted to learn to ski but the sport was too expensive for me. After class Noriko came and said her brother’s skis and ski wear were lying unused at their place and I could have them. The following day I met Akihiro for the first time. They took me up to the mountains to ski. It turned out that they were very good skiers and they taught me well. Before the day was over, but after many a fall, I was racing down the slopes to their delight and applause. Ever since we have been friends. That was more than 20 years ago.
When my family visits me in Hiroshima, the Yoshida’s home is their home. My mother, my sister and her six children have been to Hiroshima three times. When the Yoshidas go to the Philippines, my mother and sister’s home is their home. Akihiro has been to the Philippines twice and Noriko thrice.
Whenever I have friends from abroad visiting me in Hiroshima, I always take them to the Yoshidas for a taste of true Japanese hospitality and an experience of visiting a Japanese family. For various reasons the Japanese want to entertain transient guests at restaurants rather than at home. Many foreigners can spend months in Japan with out ever seeing inside of a Japanese house. But at the Yoshidas it is always open house. I have had guests coming from Australia, Canada, Norway, the United States entertained by the Yoshidas.
But the most frequents recipients of their hospitality are my kababayans – among these are the music scholars of the Elisabeth College of Music run by the Jesuits in Hiroshima. In 1991 the college started a full scholarship program for deserving Asian students of music. Most of the beneficiaries have been Filipinos.
Soon after the scholars arrived in Hiroshima for their 6-months Japanese language course and 2 years post-graduate studies, I introduced them to the Yoshidas. I am ‘Father’ to the students, and Akihiro and Noriko are O-nisan and O-nesan – kuya and ate. We had a welcoming party at the Yoshidas. As the guests are musicians, and Noriko is a member of a chorus. There is always plenty of music. During the scholars’ stay in Hiroshima there are picnics up in the mountains in spring and autumn, barbecue parties in the garden in summer, and sukiyaki dinners inside the house in winter. The Yoshidas always find time to attend all recitals and performances and graduation of the music scholars Noriko invites her friends to come along for moral support.
Family Theme Song
I officiated the wedding of Yoshida’s son, Atsushi, and daughter, Mari. On both weddings Eugene, a tenor from UST sang Santiago’s Ave Maria which is now a family favorite.
Friendships Needs No Justification
I am often asked I the Yoshidas are Catholic and when I say “No”, I am then asked why I do not convert and baptize them. I have to parry implications of my lack of missionary zeal by saying that the Yoshidas are my ecumenical friends, my intimately personal experience of ecumenism – though I believe friendship needs no justification. I would like to think that they are better Buddhists for having met me and hope I am a better Christian for having had their lives touch mine and trust we are all better human beings for having known one another.
One in Faith
The Yoshidas are friends, yes, family. Through friendship with them I have come to understand Jesus’ words more, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, sister and mother.” The Yoshidas and I are one in our faith in a good and loving God. Religion should not build barriers but bridges. It should not build enclosures but should open doors and windows. Ecumenism to me is like going inside the Yoshida’s house, through the wide welcoming door, but taking off your shoes at the front door, out of respect and humility. “Remove the scandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”