Stories from Japan featured at Bridgefolk gathering

Published: September 9, 2015

Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, Bridgefolk executive director

Release shared on this site by Bridgefolk

Recordings available for listening from these sources:
iTUnes U:

Collegeville, MN (BRIDGEFOLK) — Meeting at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN, the 14th annual Bridgefolk conference was held August 20-23 under the theme, “Ecumenical Healing and the Mystery of the Communion of Saints.

Bridgefolk is a movement of sacramentally-minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions, explore each other’s practices, and honor each other’s contribution to the mission of Christ’s Church.

Previous conferences have alternated between Catholic and Mennonite locations in the United States and Canada. Of the ninety participants gathered for this year’s conference, about sixty were Mennonite and thirty Catholic.

This year’s conference featured an array of guests and speakers from Japan, including members of the Mennonite communities in Japan and of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in Japan. The keynote speakers were Prof. Nozomu Yamada and Fr. Alfonso Fausone SVD, both of Nanazan (Catholic) University in Nagoya, Japan.

On the opening evening of the conference, following welcoming words from AMBS president Sara Wenger Shenk and from Bridgefolk co-chairs Marilyn Stahl (Mennonite) and Abbot John Klassen OSB (Catholic), long-time Mennonite missionaries and educators Alan and Eleanor Kreider related the events at the heart of the conference: the miraculous healing from leukemia of Jun Yamada, a Japanese Mennonite, after intercessory prayers offered together by members of the SVD community and the Mennonite community in Japan.

The next day Prof. Yamada (Jun’s eldest brother, who was studying at AMBS in 1987 when Jun became ill) and Fr. Fausone told the story and reflected on their personal experiences and theological understandings of the events surrounding Jun’s healing. This was followed by a panel of speakers: Ms. Yoko Aratani, Rev. Hiroyasu Kirai, and Mr. Minoru Murano. They each shared reminiscences of the spiritual pilgrimage in 2013 of Mennonites and Catholics from Japan and the United States to Italy to visit the Roman catacombs, where Jun now works as a scholar of early Christian art, and the Tyrolean birthplace of St. Josef Freinademetz SVD (d. 1908), whom Fr. Fausone had invoked in his prayers and who was subsequently canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

Occurring near the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the conference featured a beautiful presentation of survivor (“Hibakusha”) stories by Mr. Shizuo Tachibana of the Hiroshima Mennonite Church, himself a second-generation survivor. This was followed by a moving service of remembrance and lament, organized by members of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, based in South Bend, IN.

Common worship was woven throughout the conference in several forms, including morning and mid-day prayer and Sunday worship with the Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart. Adam Tice, a widely-published Mennonite hymn writer, accompanied by Eleanor Kreider, led the gathered community in a hymn sing, which has become a well-loved feature of Bridgefolk gatherings. This year’s hymn sing featured a litany of witnesses, composed by Br. Aelred Senna OSB (St. John’s Abbey), which drew names from the “cloud of witnesses” of both Anabaptist and Catholic traditions.

Central to this year’s conference and all Bridgefolk gatherings was the footwashing and Agape meal, using a liturgy that was developed by Rev. Prof. Mary Schertz (AMBS) and Abbot John Klassen OSB (Saint John’s Abbey), drawing on ancient liturgical forms and a current practice shared by Mennonites and Catholics. For Bridgefolk, footwashing has become a poignant ritual of celebrating our baptismal unity in Christ in this time when full Eucharistic communion is still not possible.

Pictures from the conference are posted at the Bridgefolk Facebook page, and audio recordings of the conference sessions are accessible at the links above and at the Bridgefolk website,

The 15th annual Bridgefolk conference is planned for 28-31 July 2016, to be held at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, MN.

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