Former Lismore boy Father Paul Glynn saw first-hand the damage caused by the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent radiation leak from the Fukushima nuclear reactor that wrought havoc in Japan's north-east.
He lived in Japan for three months in the aftermath of the three-pronged disaster and described the tsunami as a "leviathan-like force of nature" that swept out of the ocean to devour 20,000 lives.
But Father Paul has also witnessed the good that $9000 raised by Lismore residents in August has done to help rebuild the lives of some of the 227 children orphaned in the destruction. And he says the acts of human resilience, bravery and kindness he has heard of and seen would "move even the most cynical heart".
The money raised in Lismore was sent via the Marist Mission Centre in Hunters Hill to the Japanese Notre Dame nuns, who school 10 orphaned pupils who are now cared for by adoptive parents.
The nuns have pledged to pay their school fees until they graduate from university and give the adoptive parents $1000 a month.
"The Japanese government has agreed to match the nuns' payments to the adoptive parents, yen for yen. The nuns hope they can gradually gather enough supporters to be able to reach out to some of the other orphans," Father Paul explained.
Father Paul visited the nuns with parishioners from Tomigaoka Church in Nara, who handed over $40,000 from the parish annual bazaar, individual Japanese and Australian donations, sales of Marist Fathers' books and donations from Japanese people living in Sydney.
The nun were also presented with four oil paintings, "as we realise how drab the walls are of the hastily-built homes for Fukushima citizens whose homes were destroyed," Father Paul explained, as well as beautiful origami by Sachiko Kotaka and her Lismore pupils.
He said in Tomigaoka Church there was no nativity scene with a crib carrying baby Jesus this Christmas.
"On the first Sunday of Advent the Tomigaoka Christians put up a blasted structure, with only one wall left standing after the horrible earthquake and tsunami. Driftwood was scattered around it and the floor was covered with sand, beach gravel and mud, the kind that was left behind in towns and paddy fields as the evil-looking black tsunami slunk back to the ocean," Father Paul said. "The remaining wall carried photos taken during the calamity and in the immediately following days. In one photo, two little orphans struggle with brooms, trying to shift the mud from the entrance to their now sad home, deprived of parents and grandparents."
Father Paul said amidst the sadness there is hope and the Notre Dame nuns work day in and day out to provide what solace they can.
"The nuns go into the villages and talk to the people, many of whom find it very painful to be apart from homes that held a lifetime of memories, and they now exist in bare, temporarily built shelters," Father Paul said. "The nuns eminently qualify for that epithet of praise, 'fire in the belly'. Their spirit has not been dulled by all the violence of the forces of nature gone berserk. One of the nuns, Sister Kimura, is 92 years old… but she refuses to tell her body that."
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