When Akiko and Fumiko arrived at the Trappistine convent of Our Lady of Imari in Japan, they were not initiates to the order, but they weren’t casual visitors either. They had set aside three months to live as temporary members of the community.
The convent started this program as a way to give young people a chance to make prayer the center of their lives, not only during their stay but in their lives afterward. Prayer is like the pulse of this convent, which sits on a mountain overlooking Imari Bay in Saga Prefecture, some 940km west of Tokyo. The first prayers begin promptly at 3.50am, and the day ends with a Marian hymn at 7.40pm.
The traditional form of Christian devotion at Our Lady of Imari focuses on the Mass and the daily office, a schedule of seven prayer sessions. Akiko and Fumiko joined in this experience and devoted more than four hours to prayer each day, in addition to three and a half hours set aside for study and about three hours for manual labour.
Fumiko, who lives in Fukuoka Prefecture, heard about this program by word of mouth. 'I was in a tough spot psychologically, so I wanted to get to know God and find my path in life,' she says of her motivation to participate.
Akiko, from Aichi Prefecture, had embarked on a career but maintained an interest in the consecrated life. She learned of this opportunity during a chance visit to a different church than usual. She quit her job, persuaded her non-Christian family members to give her decision their blessing, and filled out the application.
When they first joined the program, the two women primarily worked in the garden 'with a sickle in the hand, morning and afternoon,' says Fumiko. 'It was really hard at first,' she added with a pained laugh.
Photo: Trappistine Sisters working on the grounds of their convent in Saga Prefecture