Father by night
SAVOIR FAIRE - Mayenne Carmona () - June 14, 2008 - 12:00am

School days are here again and while many affluent parents are happy to see their children back in school, the marginalized sector of our society is desperately looking for ways to send their children to school.  How can they meet mounting tuition fees plus other expenses like books, uniforms and other school supplies when there’s not even enough food on the table? You can just imagine a father’s sense of despair when he cannot send all his kids to school because of lack of funds.

I met a father who has to send thousands of children to school. He is not the biological father of these children but he cares for them like his own. His name is Father Toru Albertus Nishimoto, a Japanese Redemptorist priest who made it his life’s mission to help educate the poorest of the poor in our country.   He came to Manila in 1974 to further his studies in Missiology at the East Asian Pastoral Institute at the Ateneo de Manila upon the recommendation of his former professor at the Gregorian University in Rome.  During his studies at the EAPI, he befriended a group of Japanese nationals and started to conduct regular meetings with them.  After his course at the Ateneo, he paid a visit to then Archbishop Jaime Sin and presented his report about this group. Archbishop Sin asked Fr. Nishimoto to stay in the Philippines and continue to take care of the Japanese nationals in the country.  Manila was a major tourist attraction in those days and Archbishop Sin was aware of the influx of Japanese tourists.  Thus started Father Nishimoto’s missionary work in our country.

In 1975, he put up a Pre-evangelization Program for Japanese nationals that aimed to teach them the word of God, since most of them were non-Christians. Through this office (PEP for short), he gives mental and spiritual care and guidance to the Japanese in the Philippines regardless of their religion.

In 1982, while acting as a tourist guide to some Japanese students visiting our country, five students asked Fr. Nishimoto why there were so many children in the streets when they should be in school. Fr. Nishimoto replied, “They have no money to go to school.” This awakened the civic consciousness of his Japanese tourists and upon their return to Japan they sent him Y150,000 to fund the schooling of five deserving but poor children in the Philippines. The good priest gave the money to Sister Ueda, who has been helping poor Filipino students in their studies with her own personal funds.

In Japan, meanwhile, Sr. Ueda’s work was broadcast by the NHK, a Japanese radio and TV station, and this triggered a deluge of calls from good Samaritans offering financial assistance to the poor Filipino students. Since Sr. Ueda could not cope with all these, she asked Fr. Nishimoto’s help to handle the funds, and he in turn asked help from Professor Yabuki.  Thus started “Salamat Po Kai,” an organization that helps indigent Filipino children go to school.

In 1982, a student needed P3,500 a year to go to school. Ten years later, in 1992, it increased to P4,967 a year per student.  In 2002, the amount rose to P9,884 per student per year.  This school year, a benefactor has to give P12,341 a year for each student.

Salamat Po Kai started funding 40 scholars during school year 1982-1983 and that number has grown to 9,264 after all these years. The total funds that Fr. Nishimoto’s organization has collected from 1982 to 2007 have reached a staggering P302,051,483. At present SPK has 19 persons in charge, mostly nuns and priests who monitor the educational situation of the scholars all over the Philippines. The PEP office conducts educational and get-together tours for the beneficiaries and their sponsors. The tours give a good impression of the Philippines and bring better relationships and understanding between Filipinos and the Japanese.

Father Nishimoto’s apostolate has a twofold mission: Directly, his scholarships help less fortunate Filipino children in their education. Indirectly, his main aim is to evangelize and reawaken a “sense of God” among his Japanese benefactors.  His scholars are encouraged to write often to their benefactors, coursing their letters through the PEP office. Most of the benefactors come to know about the Christian faith through their scholars. In all these 34 years of missionary work in the Philippines, Fr. Nishimoto’s concern has always been the Japanese soul. He has tried to reawaken Japanese people to the presence of God through the Filipino people. He believes that the Filipino is the “Star of the East” sent to guide the Japanese to become closer to Jesus.

In the ’80s, Cardinal Sin called him “Father By Night” because in those days he used to frequent the nightspots where Japanese tourists congregated. The Japanese word for night is “yoru,” which also means “come closer.” Fr. Nishimoto’s drawing power is indeed his charismatic, gentle ways, which attract people to come closer to him.

Father Toru Nishimoto has written five books about his work in Manila, most notably Father By Night, a compilation of his radio program in Radio Veritas Asia.  A sixth book was written in 1994, New Life in Japan, a guidebook for Filipino wives married to Japanese husbands who are living in Japan.

Father Nishimoto is in frail health these days due to a kidney condition.  Despite his weak physical condition he still reports to the office and entertains visitors every day, going slowly up the stairs to the third floor as his office has no elevator.

We all wish this remarkable Redemptorist priest a speedy recovery so that he can continue his difficult but successful mission among our beloved countrymen.

For interested benefactors, call Mako, Fr. Nishimoto’s secretary, at 525-0762 or 525-3517.

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