Our Missteps Should Not be Our Legacy

Today the Church remembers an obscure, but important, contemporary saint: Toyohiko Kagawa.

Toyohiko was the biological son of a member of the Japanese Cabinet and a geisha girl, and was raised by his father’s wife. He was eventually sent to live with an uncle, and learned English through a Bible course. At 15 he became a Christian, and was rejected by his family of origin.

He dedicated his life to serving in the slums of Japan. He lived in the most impoverished slum, Shinkawa, for most of his young adulthood, abiding in a 6ft by 6ft hut with his wife Haru.

From there he began organizing.

In 1912 he organized the first labor union in Japan for shipyard workers. in 1918 he founded the Labor Federation and in 1921 the Farmer’s Union. He was arrested numerous times in worker strikes and street riots, and in 1925 he worked successfully for universal male suffrage in Japan.

His work in both unionizing and social welfare was born from what he saw as the Christian ideal for social order, lifting up the poor and the marginalized. His writings helped the powerful see the plight of the poor in Japan.

As nationalist fervor started to bubble, he founded the Anti-War League in 1928. In 1940 he was arrested in Japan for apologizing to China for Japanese aggression, and in 1941 he was part of a group who came to the United states to try to avert the war.

Despite all of this, the climate in Japan during the war influenced him greatly, as did the fear of political retribution. He was known, during the war, as being a nationalistic hardliner.

After the war, Kagawa led efforts to establish democratic institutions in Japan. He died in Tokyo on this day in 1960.

Kagawa is a wonderful example of how the complexity of a heart for the poor and geo-political realities affect humanity. Hindsight leads us to see where we have succeeded, and where we have stumbled, and despite our best efforts to keep our feet under us, no one leads an unblemished existence.

His commemoration is a good reminder, for all of us, that our missteps should not, in the end, erase the times we were in alignment with justice. No saint is perfect, after all.

-historical information gathered from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints

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