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Meet Mr. Shigeru Kato

A New Approach

By Fr. Barry Cairns

I would like to introduce Mr. Dismas Shigeru Kato. He was born 91 years ago in a small fishing village called Kushimoto in Wakayama Province of Japan. In his youth and when drafted into the wartime army he built up a massive debt for alcohol at different bars.

Then he got married. His wife was very patient with him. Mr. Kato worked for the Kansai Electric Power Company. He cared for external power lines. He was paying off his debts bit by bit.

Then Mr. Kato became a Christian, first with the local Protestant Church and later the Catholic Church where he was baptized. He chose as his baptismal name "Dismas" which is the traditional name of the penitent brigand on a cross beside Jesus at his crucifixion.

Columban Fr. Barry Cairns with Mr. Dismas Shigeru Kato
Columban Fr. Barry Cairns (left) with Mr. Dismas Shigeru Kato

At this time I was pastor of Kushimoto which was one of the smallest parishes in Japan. It was definitely a mission of primary contact to the un-evangelized! At Sunday Mass we had 5-10 people attending. However after Mass, 50 non-Christian children from the village came for Sunday school. Mr. Kato's daughter, Majimi, was the only Christian.

It was here that Mr. Dismas Shigeru Kato really shone in the darkness. For the children we used a projector showing a film strip about a small Catholic boy in Africa. Remember this was before TV came into the village. The film strip was in color and most extensive with many episodes. Mr. Kato would study each episode during the week and in the darkness needed for the projector could tell the story without looking at the script. Each character in the story was given in its own distinctive voice. It was a masterful and captivating presentation. I often heard the children discussing both the developing story and its Christian message.

At this time too Mr. Kato was giving witness in another field. The Kansai Electric Company had a trade union seminar. The subject was traffic safety. During the open discussion Mr. Kato stood up and said: "As many of you know I am a Christian. You have probably heard that Christ 2,000 years ago was strong on love of others. A modern aspect of love of neighbor is safe driving. Let the driver be concerned and respectful for others who use the road. Aggressive, dangerous driving can be a form of self-centeredness. Careful, considerate driving is a form of love of neighbor. Let this be our motive for safe driving."

A moment of spontaneous reflective silence was followed by massive applause. This was a new, different, and appealing approach.

The provincial section of the newspaper featured Mr. Kato and his talk emphasizing motivation for safe driving instead of just keeping rules for their own sake.

At 91 Shigeru Kato has moved into a Catholic run retirement home. Here he is a leader of a group who pray the Rosary together.

I pray for more like Mr. Kato to evangelize this nation of Japan.

Columban Fr. Barry Cairns lives and works in Japan.