Father Paul Glynn and Sabina Baltruweit.
Father Paul Glynn and Sabina Baltruweit. Terra Sword

We can all give peace a chance

Father Paul Glynn is a man at peace with himself. A man who believes every single person can change the world and create peace. But peace, like charity, begins at home.

Father Paul Glynn and his brother Tony, both Lismore boys and Marist Fathers, have spent their entire lives deeply committed to reconciling the relationship between Australian and Japanese people post-WWII.

He has come home this week to try and raise money for Japanese tsunami victims and celebrate the 48th anniversary of Lismore’s sister-city relationship with Yamato-Takada, the first of its kind in Australia at a time when hatred towards Japan was at its height.

He explains how he wasn’t always a peaceful man and he and his brother both started out as school boys hating the Japanese, just like everybody else they knew.

“Really hating – it’s amazing what propaganda can do,” Father Paul said.

In his late teens he spoke to an old school mate Lionel Marsden, who’d been captured during the fall of Singapore and had survived the horrors of the Thai-Burma railway.

“This fellow Marsden threw me into a spin – he said good things about the Japanese and said ordinary Japanese are just like ordinary Australians. Marsden said Japanese people were living in a police state and had totally lost their freedom during the Pacific War. Half of their factories had been destroyed and 90% of their ships, and they could not trade immediately after their defeat in 1945.

“Marsden said if we continued to hate there would be another war; he believed we had to break the vicious hate circle. And he got through to us because he’d suffered the worst of what Australians had suffered in the war.”

Father Paul then began receiving letters from his brother Tony, who had gone to work on a Marist Mission in Japan. Tony remained living in Japan for 42 years until his death in 1994.

“He sent a letter to me in the seminary describing how deeply in poverty these people were. There was a great deal of TB and he told of Japanese people selling their blood to pay their university fees… In those days blood was worth money.

“Japan was not allowed to join the UN at that stage, it was regarded as a pariah nation. In one letter he described Japan as ‘a man (who) has been knocked down and is lying in the gutter and everyone who passes kicks him in the ribs’.”

Long before the term ‘ageing population’ was ever bandied about, Tony recognised a problem with too many elderly people and not enough younger people to look after them so he established an old folks home, Father Paul explained, and also a kindergarten.

“Everyone loves children so he appealed to Australians to help them and it worked. It’s hard to hate children.”

Between Marsden and Tony, two nursing homes, six churches and six more kindergartens have been built, and the Marist Mission in Japan continues its work today, often working with people with problems such as depression, although now its efforts include assisting people following the great devastation the tsunami wreaked.

Father Paul later followed his brother to Japan where he studied the language at university and worked in the Marist Mission for many years. He wrote books about Japanese culture to try and give Westerners a greater understanding of their way of life and as he learnt more about Buddhism, he came to understand his brother’s passion not just for reconciliation between nations but also between religions. He came to see there were more similarities than differences at the heart of their beliefs.

But perhaps Father Paul’s greatest inspiration is Dr Nagai, a cult figure in Japan who was made a national living treasure before his death. The dean of radiotherapy at the Nagasaki Medical University, he nursed people in the immediate aftermath of the Nagasaki atomic bombing. He wrote 14 bestsellers while bedridden and eventually died of radiation poisoning. He worked for long hours after the blast treating victims in a makeshift hospital and, when he was finally relieved by an army doctor, he returned home to find nothing but his wife’s powdered bones and her melted rosary beads in what was once their kitchen.

“He wrote that when he found her he began to tremble convulsively and howl like a child,” Father Paul said. “He had every reason to be angry, his wife had been destroyed by that bomb, but he chose not to be.”

Father Paul said the peace marches in Hiroshima became increasingly famous and increasingly pro-Communist and anti-American, so when the people of Nagasaki turned to Dr Nagai as the town’s hero to champion peace marches in the city, he said yes only if people abided by two conditions.

“He told the people that the first was you must have peace in your heart – if you’re an angry person you’re not the one to be telling others to be peaceful. Number two was that you

must have peace in your family – if your daughter-in-law and mother-in-law are fighting it is hypocritical to publicly tell others to work for peace. They never had the peace marches in Nagasaki.”

Dr Nagai said, “Why hate America when the Japanese have bombed defenceless cities themselves?” Reading Dr Nagai’s words marked a turning point in Father Paul’s life.

“I had been emotional before at people – I used to get uptight and angry. I thought ‘I’m a priest preaching about peace and here I am getting angry at the parishioners’. It struck me that to work for peace you must be peaceful. That is at the core of Buddhist teaching, and my university teacher once told me, ‘You’ll never understand Japanese people unless you understand Buddhism.’”

Father Paul is encouraging people to give generously for the people of Japan when they see collectors around the streets and at Lismore Shopping Square and Centro Lismore over the next few days.

He said while Japan was still deeply in crisis, he was heartened by the global outpouring of grief following the disaster.

“I think something happened that’s never happened before – people right around the world sat watching amazed and frightened as this black tsunami gobbled up farmland and homes, and seeing the support that then came I felt like we really had a global village,” Father Paul said. “The tsunami was black and evil-looking and we all saw that and the whole world responded in sympathy… many countries sent money, specialised workers to look for bodies and so forth. But right now the interest has dropped when there’s still a real need.”

Father Paul said money raised locally would be used by Caritas Japan (Caritas means ‘pure love’ in Latin) to help the more than 200 orphans whose parents died in the tsunami. Funds will be sent through Marist headquarters in Sydney and no money will be taken in administration.

“If you give $10, Caritas Japan will get $10,” he said.

He said there are many things that can be learnt from how the Japanese handled what was an unprecedented and terrifying situation.

“There was no screaming and no stealing and we can learn from that. There is a beautiful photo with a big man in a radiation suit doing radiation checks and a little boy bowing to one another; despite the trauma they kept their good manners.”

Father Paul believes most of us are wounded to some degree – whether through tough relationships with our parents; problems with teachers at school; any number of reasons – but overcoming our own anger is the path to healing and peace.

He said that’s why he supported the work of Sabina Baltruweit, Larisa Barnes and Margaret Loong, who established the Remembering and Healing Old Wounds group in Lismore to hold peace ceremonies on Anzac Day.

“Here’s someone from Germany (Sabina) working with someone like Sachiko (Kotaka, a Japanese Australian) and Larisa, who is Jewish. Their people have suffered deep wounds in war and degrees of discrimination but they responded to Sabina’s calls for reconciliation and healing,” Father Paul said. “There is a beautiful quote from a writer called Miyazawa Kenji, who lived in the north-east of Japan where the tsunami hit. He said, ‘Use your suffering as the fuel for your energy’.

“I find there are a lot of people upset and frightened at what’s happening in the newspapers, and there is a lot of conflict in the world,” he said. “But if there is no love somewhere put love there. One person can do that.”

As part of Father Paul Glynn’s trip to Lismore to raise funds for Japanese tsunami victims there will be street collections in the CBD and at Lismore Square and Lismore Centro this Friday, August 5, from 9am to 3pm; Saturday, August 6, from 9am to 12.30pm; and Sunday from 12.30 to 4pm. If you miss them, cheques can be sent to Father Paul Pidcock at Woodlawn College, PO Box 6, Lismore. Money given is tax deductible.

Father Paul will also speak at three masses at St Carthage’s Cathedral (Saturday, August 6, at 5pm and Sunday, August 7, at 9am and 5pm) to which all are welcome. He will also take place in a traditional incense burning ceremony on Friday morning with visiting Japanese Deputy Consul General Kazutoshi Inadone and Mayor Jenny Dowell as well as visiting students and anyone else who wishes to send a message of solidarity to the suffering Japanese victims. Father Paul said the Japanese burn incense, like Westerners would bring flowers, to honour those in the disaster.

Other events to mark Father Paul’s visit and Hiroshima Day include an exhibition by Japanese Auatralians at the Lismore Library from this Saturday, August 6, beginning at 10am and a fundraising concert by Isabella A Cappella this Sunday, August 7, from 4pm at Invercauld House.

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