One underreported event during Pope Francis’s recent trip to East Asia was a meeting with three Japanese young adults, who delivered personal testimonies to him. These testimonies shed further light on some of the themes of the trip overall. Such themes include the treatment of migrants and the need to confront widespread loneliness in a society that is collectivist by tradition but now very atomized. The three young adults were a young Japanese Catholic, Miki Kobayashi; a young Buddhist, Masako Kudo; and a young Filipino migrant (who is also Catholic), Leonardo Cachuela. Notably, all three had much to say about the Japanese school and work systems and the way they entrench or enforce loneliness. Here is Kobayashi contrasting what used to be called the “rat race” in Japan with her experiences at a Catholic school in Timor-Leste:
Japanese society emphasizes productivity, so I feel Japan is a very busy country. Unfortunately, in such a society, there are few people who think that it is valuable to take time to pause and reflect on themselves and just pray. However, I think it is necessary in modern life to make round trips between daily life and time apart, going back to the Father for a while every weekend to reflect on what happened in the past week, to pray and then get energy to live the new week. When I went to a school in Timor- Leste, the students went to Mass every night. They prayed quietly and their singing spread throughout the church. I felt the beauty of their lives naturally spent with God. This round trip between daily life and time apart enriches life. We can make time to think and act based on God even though the world around us changes so rapidly.
Here is Kudo describing the impulse to compare oneself to others in a society heavily focused on educational attainment:
In my school, there are students who compare themselves with others and have feelings of inferiority or superiority. They do not like themselves and have low self-esteem, but at the same time, they cannot acknowledge others’ efforts or achievements. When I talk to students with gloomy faces, they give answers like, “I had a fight with my parents. They treat me like a nuisance,” or, “My parents compare me to my siblings.” They tend to become aggressive toward others who do well at school, saying “He/she has a different brain by nature,” and “He/she puts on a good face for the teacher.” I have come to realize that these students’ attitudes are like my own.
Here is Cachuela discussing the effect of bullying (some of it racist in character) on his psyche and the comfort that he took in his faith during his schooldays:
At school, I spent more and more time alone, avoiding others. I didn’t have many friends during free time, and when I tried to join a group, everyone would leave me feeling like they were avoiding me. This continued every day, and I didn’t like going to school. There were times when I couldn’t go to school for a week. I had a hard time every day, and several times I thought of killing myself. However, I was saved many times by people at church and by hearing the words of Jesus. There were times when I went to church on Sunday and I felt really comfortable. Gentle words from the priests, leaders, and friends, along with what Jesus taught and the words of the Bible, “Do not be afraid, I am with you. Do not be amazed, I am your God. I will strengthen you, help you, and hold you in my victorious right hand,” all encouraged me.
Read the whole thing. I’m of the belief that rather than a “generational” loneliness, this is a human loneliness; even so, in my experience younger people typically express it to others more readily. I’m glad it has been expressed to Pope Francis, and I believe that these testimonies can be of help to anybody experiencing this kind of loneliness worldwide.
Image from Vatican Media.
Nathan Turowsky went to elementary school in Vermont, high school in New Jersey, and college in Massachusetts, where he now lives. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and has a classically Millennial patchwork employment history.