History of Hodogaya Catholic Church

History of Hodogaya Catholic Church

Half century overlooking Hodogaya

Hodogaya is a one of the residential areas sprawling out around central city of Yokohama. The area is hilly, yet those hills are mostly covered with residential houses and condominiums which spread on terraced building lots. Off Hodogaya station and following a road up through non-descriptive concrete condos, you come across all of a sudden an old Catholic church built in a classical Romanesque design as is seen in small villages in Europe. This church, The Assumption of Mary  Church is its official name, has been the base of missionary work of Catholicism for the Yokohama/Hodogaya area for over half century. Over the years, the church has grown into real Community of Jesus  in Hodogaya area which is supported by over 800 Christian members. However, there is a little bit of untold history and human drama behind before we got to this point.

Dawn of an Era

Hodogaya Church was established in July 1938 by missionaries of the Missions Etrangeres de Paris (MEP). At that time, the Catholic population in Japan had been growing rapidly and the Vatican appointed the first native Japanese Archbishop (Tatsuo Doi, Archbishop of Tokyo) in 1937. He took over the task of overseeing the Bishopric from the MEP. The MEP was then requested to focus on expanding the Yokohama Diocese which had been newly created in the same year. The missionaries decided to increase the number of churches and decided to build one in Hodogaya first, to cope with growing Catholic population in Yokohama area. The missionary appointed Fr. Cheryl (from Gubinan, France) as the first priest of Hodogaya church. Fr.Cheryl was an old hand at Japanese missions and since his arrival to Japan in 1892, he had already contributed greatly to missionary work, such as the foundation of the Kanda church in Tokyo, Shirayuri Gakuen (Ecole du Lys Blanc) and the restoration of them after the damage caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

The building the new church was hampered by several accidents, including a landslide of the building lot itself. Fr.Cheryl spent all of his personal saving on the project, and was further supported by gracious donations from believers of the Kanda Church and Christians in France. The chapel was completed in the present location which at the time was nothing but farmland with vistas of grape vines.

Fr.Cerly and Cardinal Champon
June 4. 1939, opeing ceremony of the church
Spring 1940, the church surrounded by vie yard

Era of Tribulations

In late 1930 s, Japan was trudging down the path of militarism; leading to the Second World War, and Hodogaya Church entered era of trial and challenge. As the war progressed (not in Japan s favor), foreign missionaries were relocated or detained. As Yamate church was requisitioned and converted into army barracks, Hodogaya church became the diocesan church during war period. However, Fr.Toda, then head of Yokohama Diocese was shot dead at Hodogaya church three days after Japan s surrender in 1945.

Post-war Development

After the difficult war period and resulting disorder following Japan s defeat, Hodogaya church was again on the way to recovery and re-development under the leadership of a Japanese priest, Fr. Hino (presided in 1951-1969), the third priest of Hodogaya church.

As society regained stability, the population of Hodogaya rapidly increased, turning it into a suburb of greater Tokyo/Yokohama metropolis. In proportion to the increase in local population, church-goers to Hodogaya church also increased. Catholic believers, which numbered only 100 at Hodogaya at the time of the war s end, began increasing rapidly reaching 300 in the middle of 1960 s. Every year, over 20 people were christened at the church.

Mission of Escuelas Pi as (Headquartered in Spain) established St. Mary Kindergarten  at Tsukimidai in the neighborhood of the church in 1953. Under the leadership of the 6th priest, Fr. Matsumura, church goers increased further, amounting to over 600. In 1985, Girl Scout unit (#22 Troop of the Kanagawa council) was founded at the site of the church.

Church developing in the modern society

In July 1988, Hodogaya church celebrated its 50th anniversary. Special mass was offered to thank our Lord for his protection and sacrifice made by the pioneers who established the church. To commemorate 50th anniversary, a statue of Virgin Mary was installed in front yard of the church.

Japan has now become economically affluent and on the surface, it seems as if there is no hunger or poverty. However, people of Hodogaya church saw the people who were left behind in the rapid economic growth or suffered negative side-effects from it. In addition to traditional church working groups, the church members spontaneously formed a number of volunteer circles which are focused on specialized areas of assistance. These volunteer circles, which now number more than ten. They have extended support effectively to various activities such as: assisting physically/mentally handicapped people, drug/alcoholic rehabilitation, children in third word, neglected elderly people, and fatherless families.

In order to accommodate the expanding church activities, the church constructed a muti-purpose annex building which consists of a main hall and meeting rooms on the second floor. To date, the hall and all of the rooms have been fully utilized for the aforementioned activities.

With Cardinal Arai, 1964
With Fr.Kato, 1972

Hodogaya church in the new Millennium

From the beginning of the new millennium, Japan has to face the issue of an aging society with fewer children. Catholic society is no exception in Japan and priests are chronically short staffed. This situation made Hodogaya church again rely on support from foreign missions from 1987, and currently the church is governed by Fr. Lee Byung Hun (originally from South Korea, presided from 2014).

As Japan entered prolonging economic downturn after experiencing long economic growth and as society struggles to find way of getting out recession, established morals and traditional values are questioned and even discarded. Individuals are apt to be isolated spiritually by the irony of society becoming full of high-tech information.

In such a difficult age, we at Hodogaya church believe that it is important to share the unchanging truth of God with all, and maintain this Catholic community as a spiritually safe harbor in the sea of societal relativism.